I never believed in fate. Everything happened for a reason. I was raised to believe if you wanted something, you had to work for it. Life does not hand you everything on a silver platter. You have to create your own opportunities. You have to make your own future. People make plans. My life had been planned. I grew up the only child in an upper class family, graduated in the top three percent of my high school class, went to college and then on to law school. Now I was part of the second largest law firm in the state of Wyoming. And fate had not played a part in any of it.
I was at the Silver Spurs Stables. Growing up, my dad used to take me riding all the time. It was something special he and I could do together. Even now riding helps me clear my mind, get away from the hustle and bustle of work and life and feel refreshed.
I was brushing down a bay gelding when I noticed a man dressed in a gray suit, a white dress shirt, but no tie. He was talking to one of the other riders. I saw her point in my direction. The man looked and started walking toward me.
“Are you Fallon Wickam?”
“I am James McCann of McCann and Tate Law Firm and Associates. I understand Robert Wickam is your father.”
“That’s right. Did he do something wrong? Is he in some sort of trouble?”
“No, ma’am.” Mr. McCann took a manila envelope out of his briefcase. “Upon his death, Mr. Wickam requested I give this document to you. He said you would know what to do with it. I’m sorry.” And he walked away.
I couldn’t believe it. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach right below my ribs. I had adored my father. He was my hero, my protector. My breath caught in my throat. It was like I had lost my voice. I just stared at the envelope in my hand. Slowly, I opened it. Inside was my father’s last will and testament. Of course he would want his daughter to look it over. I slid it back into the envelope. Even though I am a lawyer and handle things like this all the time, I wanted Dean Gallagher, my colleague and friend, to be there when I read it. I needed a friend right now.
Dean was more than happy to meet with me. He walked in and gave me a hug.
“I’m sorry about your father, Fallon. I know how much he meant to you.”
“How are you?”
“You may think you’re fooling some people, but I know what’s going on.”
“It’s tearing me apart, okay?”
“ I felt the same thing when my father died. Are you sure you want to do this today?”
“Yes. I just want to get it over with.” I slid the manila envelope across the large mahogany desk. I hadn’t looked at it since the day I received it.
Dean looked over the will and determined everything was legal and in order.
“Can we just sign everything now?” I asked. I had figured Dad would have left everything to me anyway.
“There is something you need to see first.”
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. As it turned out, my dad harbored a deep, dark secret. Long ago before he married my mother, he had loved and lost a 1930s rodeo cowgirl named Daisy Mae Cahill. There was an old black and white photograph in the envelope also. It showed a pretty young woman with dark wavy hair wearing a rodeo outfit. The man with her was a younger, thinner image of my father. On the back was written: To my loving husband Rob. Love Always, Daisy Mae.
I was shocked, appalled and deeply hurt. I couldn‘t even entertain the thought of my father being involved with another woman. Especially a woman of that type.
“ My father was married before my mother. How could he not tell me about this? We told each other everything.”
“People get remarried all the time.”
“But a trick rider in some rodeo?”
“She rode horses. You ride horses.”
“I am not a cowgirl.”
“If I can offer a piece of advice, it might be in your best interest if you just leave this matter alone.”
“I have to find out about this other woman that was in my father’s life.”
There was one more item. I pulled out a business-sized envelope. The name Lucy was printed on the front. I had no idea who this Lucy was, but I had a feeling I was about to find out.
Ty Lundy walked from the kitchen into the family room in Dry Creek, Wyoming. He settled into the recliner with a TV dinner for one and switched on the television set just as he had done every evening. In the middle of Wheel of Fortune, his adopted sister came from down the hall.
Lucy stood in the doorway of the family room looking at her best friend watching TV and eating cold Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes. Even though Ty kept his feelings buried deep down inside him, Lucy could still see the misery that lingered there.
“Ty, Zoey and I are going down to the Prominot. There’s a new country western band playing tonight. Why don’t you join us?”
“You don’t want me tagging along.”
“Nonsense. We would love to have you.”
“I have already made plans.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“You go on and enjoy yourself.”
“Ty, it’s been over a year since it happened. Don’t you think it’s time to start dating again?”
Ty sighed. “I have. I have a date with Vanna White every evening at 7:30pm.”
“I don’t think Amy would want you to be alone,” Lucy said gently.
“Look, Luce, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but I’m just not ready to date.”
Dry Creek was a minute, little town. It reminded me of an old western town you would see on Bonanza or in a John Wayne movie. I was aware of the strange looks I was receiving as I drove along the dusty road in my silver convertible. I pulled up beside a little roadside diner and walked inside. I got even more strange looks from the customers.
“She has to be another tourist,” one of them whispered.
“I hate tourists. They bring nothing, but trouble and complaints, “ whispered another one.
“No woman who looks like that comes to Dry Creek except by mistake. “
A waitress with dyed red hair and black eye liner came over to the booth. Her nametag read Deb.
“What’ll it be, hon?”
“Um, just coffee, please.”
“Regular or decaf?”
“Decaf.” My nerves were already frazzled enough.
Even though it wasn’t a cappuccino or latte like I was used to the coffee wasn’t half bad. I sipped it slowly. Ten minutes later, I walked up to the register to pay my tab.
“So what brings you to Dry Creek?” Deb asked.
“I’m actually looking for someone,” I replied. “Would you happen to know where I could find Daisy Mae Cahill?”
“Daisy Mae died a few years ago, but her daughter still lives at the ranch.”
“Daughter? I didn’t know she had a daughter.”
“ Oh, I guess you wouldn’t know where that is,” she said and gave me directions.
I thanked Deb and left.
A plastic white picket fence lined the three quarters of a mile long gravel driveway. The closer I got the more I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The entire place was in shambles. A metal windmill lay in the middle of the front yard, which was all sand and gravel. There wasn’t the first blade of grass anywhere. Dead tree limbs and branches were all over the place.
The house wasn’t in any better shape. The gray and white paint was peeling and one of the shutters was hanging off its hinges. The porch sank in the middle and the wooden planks were uneven. Some shingles were missing from the roof. Dead bushes lined the porch.
Ty was on his way back from town when he saw the car parked in the driveway. Thinking someone might be in trouble or need helped he slowed down. A vision emerged from behind the steering wheel.
Her hair reminded Ty of a sunrise. He had never seen that much red, gold and silver in one head before. It was styled in a trendy, expensive looking cut. She was definitely not from around here.
I hadn’t noticed him.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
I didn’t seem to hear. Ty noticed my hands were shaking.
No answer. I swayed slightly. I ran my hand through my hair and turned. I was shaking and my face had gone sickly white.
This time I looked up.
“When was the last time you had anything to drink?”
“Drink?” I asked.
“That’s right. What have you been drinking?”
“Are you suggesting that I’m drunk?”
“I’m talking about liquids in general. Preferably water.”
“I had some wine with dinner last night. I had orange juice at breakfast. I don’t see why…” I put my hand on the car hood. “I don’t feel…” I took a sharp breath.
Ty didn’t know why he didn’t notice the signs earlier. He was barely able to catch her as she toppled into his chest. Out cold. He picked her up and carried her to the house. With no water in twenty-four hours, the blasted female was lucky she had lasted this long.
Ty settled the unconscious visitor on the couch in the living room. He unbuttoned the top three buttons of her shirt to drizzle cool water over her skin. He soaked a washcloth in water from his cooler and laid it on her forehead. Heat stroke was never a pretty sight. She needed to drink, but he didn’t dare force liquids while she was unconscious in case she choked. Ty slipped ice packs under her arms and ankles and then drizzled cool water into her mouth. When she gagged, he stopped and tried again. She still didn’t come around. Her arm swept up, nailing him in the jaw. He bit back a curse. She muttered, but the sounds were choppy and made no sense to him.
As he held a damp cloth to my cheek, my eyes opened. I blinked and tried to sit up.
“Take it easy, ma’am. How does your head feel?”
“Like the space shuttle landed on my forehead.”
“Probably just the after effects of the heat. Serves you right for traveling through the desert without water.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your body needs eight to ten glasses of liquid a day. In conditions of severe heat like this, the amount can double.”
“Is that why I keeled over?”
“Why are there two bags of ice wedged under my arms?”
“I had to bring your temperature down.” He offered me a glass of water with a straw. “Sip as much as you can. The sooner you replace your fluids the better. I’m Ty Lundy by the way. I train the horses here. I also do some odd jobs. Patch fences, pitch hay, save pretty ladies from heat stroke and dehydration.” He grinned.
“Where am I exactly?” I asked.
“Cahill Ranch. Belonged to the late Daisy Mae.”
“You knew Daisy Mae?”
“After my father died, it was just Mom and me. Daisy Mae took us in. She had a soft spot for strays.“ He flashed me another million-dollar smile. “It’s my home away from home. So what brings you out here?”
Before I could answer a young girl with blue eyes and long blonde hair came in. She wore faded jeans and a light blue and peach vertically striped shirt.
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Fallon. I’m actually here to see Daisy Mae‘s daughter. Is she here?”
“Oh, you mean Lucy. She’s out in the barn. I’ll go get her,” Ty answered. At least I knew who Lucy was.
The girl still gave me a weary look like she didn’t quite trust me yet. I didn’t blame her. She didn’t know me from Adam.
Three minutes later, I got my first look at the person who could very well be my half sister. She looked to be around forty-one, eleven years my senior. The time line was about right. She was taller and thinner than me. The top part of her mousy brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and the rest hung limply around her shoulders. She wore faded black jeans and dusty brown boots. Her denim shirt was buttoned half way up and there was a red shirt underneath. She also had on an off-white cowboy hat with a reddish brown strip around the middle. As she came closer, her frank brown eyes were an exact replica of my father’s.
“I’m Lucy Cahill. What can I do for you?” She seemed to be pleasant enough.
“Can I talk you?”
Lucy dusted off one of the cushions of the loveseat and gestured for me to sit down again. She sat down in the easy chair. The girl stood against the doorframe with her arms crossed. I could tell she still wasn’t sure about my being here.
“What is this about?” Lucy asked.
“I need to ask you a few questions.”
“Are you a cop?”
“Zoey. Let her speak,” Lucy replied.
“No. I’m a magazine writer researching an article about famous rodeo queens.” Even though I knew nothing about the rodeo whatsoever, this cover story supported my reason for asking questions about Daisy Mae. I didn’t want to say what I expected without some proof. I guess that is just the lawyer in me.
“Oh.” I saw Lucy relax a little. “What do you want to know?” It didn’t seem to matter to her I wasn’t carrying a notebook or tape recorder. She was taking my word on it. She looked over at Zoey who was scowling. “And you, Merry Sunshine, go do your homework. Daisy Mae was a dreamer with a really big heart…” Lucy spun off colorful anecdotes about her mother and dusted off all the old scrapbooks to show me. Among the old mementos there was the same old photo of my father and Daisy Mae I had.
“Who is this?” I asked nonchalantly.
“What was his name?”
“My father?” Lucy’s voice was no longer pleasant. Her eyes darkened. “My father, if you can call him that was Rob Wickam.”
All though Lucy didn’t have any doubts about me, Zoey wasn’t so sure. After retrieving her backpack from the truck she walked out to my parked car. She had never seen such a fancy car this close before. She ran her hand along the fine leather interior. She found my copy of the Daisy Mae photo on the dashboard and her suspicion about me deepened. She also found one of my business cards in the side pocket. She put them in her back pocket and walked away. Later that night Zoey revealed her findings to Lucy.
“I don’t think she is who she says she is,“ Zoey said. “And then I found the picture. It’s to Rob from Daisy Mae. She is not a magazine writer. She‘s a lawyer.”
“I am not sure what she is up to either.”
“If you ask me she’s nothing, but trouble. Call it a gut feeling.”
“Just drop it, okay?”
Lucy didn’t know what to think. Here she had welcomed me into her home and I had lied right to her face. I just happened to walk in the room just then. I had been resting and looking through the scrapbooks in one of the spare bedrooms. Lucy said I could rest and look at them for as long as I liked.
“Is something wrong?” I asked when I saw Lucy and Zoey both giving me the death stare.
“Whom do you write for?” Zoey asked.
“Um, well, ah…” She had totally caught me off guard. “I’m sort of a freelance writer. You know, broke and starving.”
“Not with a car like that.”
“We must not come from the same place,” Lucy spoke up. “Where I come from, people don’t stand there and tell a bold face lie. Who are you? What are you doing with this picture? Are you here on some legal matter?” Her tone was not exactly unfriendly, but steady and even.
“Oh. Well, there is actually another reason why I am here. I know this is not the best place and time to tell you, but Rob Wickam died last week.”
“Oh, so the old bastard finally got what was coming to him.”
“How dare you speak that way about him.” I couldn’t believe my ears.
“What would you know about it? Your father is probably World‘s Best Dad. Well, honey, not everyone lives in a bubble world. He was a freaking imbecile.”
“Well, that freaking imbecile just happens to be my father, too!” I blurted out. “I’m Fallon Wickam.” Unfortunately it hadn’t come out like I had rehearsed, but I hated what she was saying about my dad.
Lucy sank back in her easy chair. “Are you sure? Couldn’t having the same name just be a coincidence?”
“I think I know my own father.”
“So if my father is your father and your father is my father then that makes us…”
“Half-sisters,” I replied.
“Well, I’m sorry you took all the trouble to come out here. I couldn’t care less about Rob. Don’t expect me to mourn him because I won‘t. He never gave a damn about me anyway. He walked out on my mother and me. Five months later she received divorce papers. He signed away his rights to me. She not only had to fend for herself, but for me, too. So she couldn’t rodeo anymore. It was like we didn’t even exist.”
“Perhaps you shamed him in some way.” I just wasn’t going to stand by while Lucy raked my father over the coals.
“I was two years old! He’s probably laughing his ass off because he can still torment me from the grave.”
“That’s it! I am not going to stand hear and listen to this. I think I made a mistake coming here.”
“You got that right!” Zoey finally spoke up. “How dare you come waltzing in here and upsetting Lucy like that. Get out!” She went over and wrapped her arms around Lucy.
“Why did you come here?” Lucy asked.
“I don’t know.” I turned around and stalked out. I got in my car and sped away. I didn’t care if I ever saw Lucy Cahill again.
“So what did you think about that writer, who’s not really a writer?” Zoey asked Ty while they were finishing up the chores.
“What are you talking about?”
“It just feels like I’m stuck here. Did you see her shoes? They probably cost more than my saddle. Her blouse was made of silk you know.”
“Where’s this coming from?”
“She had choices. I feel like I am going to be working at the ranch for the rest of my life. I’m only sixteen and my life had already been planned for me.”
“Are you jealous?”
“Jealous? No way. But this was Daisy Mae’s dream, not mine.”
Lucy was in the barn saddling up a large buff colored mare she called Sandy. She was one of the more spirited horses Lucy had.
“How’re you doing?” Ty asked walking in.
“I’ll be all right.”
“You know it wouldn’t have hurt you to hear what Fallon had to say. After all she did make the effort to come all the way out here. Besides I think there is more to it than she is letting on.”
“I heard enough. Besides she lied to me. Ty, I love you like a brother, but I don’t think you understand.”
“There’s no way you could possibly understand what it’s like. You had a father. Even Zoey had a father.”
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why? Because there might be a little truth in what I say?”
“I can’t make heads or tails of anything right now. Look, I going to take a short ride. Clear my head until I can figured something out.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“I appreciate the offer, but I just need to be alone right now.”
Lucy eased up onto the saddle and slid her feet into the stirrups. All of a sudden, Sandy started tossing her head, dancing back and kicking out. With Lucy already at her wit’s end, she started to slip and slide in the saddle.
Sandy reared up and kicked out. Without a second thought, Lucy took hold of the reins to try and control her. A thousand pounds of horse fought against her. Ty was right there. He took the reins from her and jerked them just enough to bring Sandy’s head down. Lucy saw an opening to dismount. She took a flying leap and hit the ground, knocking the wind out of her and took a hoof to the ribs. Ty fought and was finally able to maneuver Sandy back into the corral. Then he ran to back to where Lucy lay on the ground.
“Are you okay?” he asked anxiously.
“I think I just got the wind knocked out of me and my ribs are a little sore. Sandy’s never acted out like that before.” Then Lucy noticed her left leg was pinned up underneath her. The sight alone made her cry out in pain.
“My ankle’s killing me. I think it’s broken.”
“We need to get you to the doctor.”
Ty paced back and forth in the waiting room of Sweetwater Urgent Care. Zoey sat beside him.
“Ty, why don’t you sit down? Pacing won’t get her out here any sooner. Besides you’re making me nervous.“
The doors opened and a nurse pushed Lucy through in a wheelchair. She had an ace bandage wrapped around her middle and a clean white case was on her left leg all the way up to her knee. Ty shot to his feet.
“I’m okay, Ty,” Lucy reassured him. “It’s just a couple of bruised ribs and a broken ankle.”
“Now, I have already told her,” the nurse began, “in order for her to heal, she has to stay off that ankle.”
“I’ll see to it she takes it easy,” Ty told the nurse.
“ I had enough trouble trying to run the ranch as it was and now it’s going to be almost impossible,” Lucy replied softly.
It broke Zoey’s heart to hear Lucy talk like that. It was like she was giving up and Zoey had never known her to back down from anything in her life. She had to do something. But what?
Early the next morning, Zoey knew what she had to do. She got up before Lucy, dressed and quietly slipped out the front door.
Zoey walked into Cooper, Banks and Mackenzie Law Firm.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked.
“I’d like to see Fallon Wickam. It’s important.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No. I didn’t know I needed one.”
“Well, Ms. Wickam’s not in today. You can leave her a message.”
“It’s a family emergency. You see the woman who is sort of my mother, Fallon’s her sister.”
“Are you Zoey?” another voice asked.
She turned. “How do you know my name?”
“Fallon told me.”
“She told you about me?”
“ I’m Dean Gallagher. Fallon is a good friend of mine. She’s been coming in late. Something about getting her priorities straight.”
“I need to talk to her about those priorities.”
“I think I know where you can find her.” Dean pulled out a business card wrote something on the back and handed it to Zoey.
I was running a black horse through the obstacle course that consisted of jumps and straight stretches. Zoey watched in amazement. She hadn’t realized I could even ride a horse much less execute such as complicated course. I was cantering around the paddock. I took my mount over a jump. Cantering still, I started the next circle when I saw Zoey.
I pulled up on the reins. What in the name of Heaven was she doing here? I knew something had to be up. When she knew I had spotted her, she flashed me a sarcastically sweet smile and waved. I directed my horse over and wrapped the reins around the rail of the paddock.
“Hey. What’s up?” She greeted me like we were old friends.
“Cut the crap, Zoey. What are you doing here? Did Lucy send you?”
“I came on my own. Lucy doesn’t even know I’m here.”
I crossed my arms and waited.
“Can we go someplace and talk?” Zoey asked. “ Please?”
I sighed. “Okay, come one.”
I took Zoey to my penthouse condo in downtown Cheyenne. Zoey perched on a stool on one side of the island in the kitchen. I took out some egg, spinach and cheese frozen mini quiches and put them in the microwave. When I set the plate down on the island she looked at them skeptically.
“Don’t you have anything that‘s not designer food? Like hot dogs or something?”
“I’m a vegetarian.”
“Really?” She walked over and opened the freezer. “Don’t tell me you don’t have any ice cream.”
“None to speak of.”
“Come on. Everyone likes ice cream.” She grabbed an apple out of the basket next to the refrigerator.
“How did you know I wasn’t a writer?”
“The shoes gave you away. They are far too expensive and way too sexy.”
“Now that we got the small talk out of the way, I’ll ask you again. Why are you here?”
“Whether you like it or not, Lucy is your sister.”
“Half sister,” I corrected her.
“Whoever came up with that word? It’s all or nothing. Lucy’s not really my mother and Ty’s not really my brother, but it doesn’t matter. Lucy had an accident. She fell off her horse. She has a couple of bruised ribs and a broken ankle. Now Lucy’s laid up and she can’t run the ranch.”
“For how long?”
“I’m sure you and Ty are more than capable.”
“There is only so much we can do.”
“I don’t know what you are expecting from me.”
“Come back with me. Lucy is a really good person once you get to know her. Now that your father is gone, you’re the only family she has left.”
“She has you and Ty.”
“We’re her adopted family. You are related to her by blood.”
“I still don’t know.”
Will you at least think about it?”
“I just didn’t know what else to do. You were the only person I could go to. You were my last hope, Ms. Wickam.”
“Oh, call me Fallon.”
“You can call me Zoey. And you know, if Lucy doesn‘t get the chance to know you, from this point on it‘s going to be your fault.”
“And just what do you think you’re doing?”
“You are not supposed to be cooking. You are supposed to be resting. I don’t want you up on that foot.”
“Don’t you have some horses to go train? Come on, Ty. It’s been three days. I’m going stir crazy just sitting here. I need to do something.” Lucy leaned on her crutches. “Are you going to stay or not?”
“What are you making?”
“I might just have a roll.” Ty reached for the basket of rolls.
“Hey, if you don’t eat my stew, you don’t get any rolls.” Lucy tapped his hand lightly with her wooden spoon.
Just then Zoey walked in the front door.
“You left pretty early the other day,” Lucy greeted her.
“I had some studying to do.“
“So how was school?” Lucy asked.
“Oh, you know. Same old stuff. Biology, geometry, history.”
“I know you weren’t in school the other day,” Lucy began her interrogation.
Just then someone knocked on the door. Ty went to answer it.
“I wonder who that could be,” Lucy said. “I‘m going to finish with you later, young lady.”
“Well, hello there,” Ty said. “ It’s nice to see you again.”
“Who‘s there? Come in,” Lucy called. “I’m sorry. Ty doesn’t have the best manners.”
Ty pushed open the front door and Lucy stopped as soon as she saw me. After doing a lot of soul searching, I had decided to try and make amends with Lucy.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice went cold.
“Please, just hear me out. I’m here to help in any way I can. I could stay in town, but it would be more efficient if I could stay here. I’ll do chores, cook and clean to earn my keep.”
“That sounds like a pretty good offer to me,” Ty said. “I say yes.”
“I second it,” Zoey chimed in.
“Lucy?” I asked tentatively.
“Well, the majority rules so I guess I’ll make it unanimous. But it will be on a trial basis.”
“I can live with that.”
“I’ll go set up the guest room.” Zoey hurried off down the hall.
“I’m tired. I think I’ll go to my room and rest. There’s beef stew on the stove, if you’re hungry.” Lucy hobbled down the hallway.
“I don’t think she’s too happy about me being here,” I said.
“Don’t worry. She’ll come around,” Ty replied. “I for one am happy to have you here.”
Dressed in jeans, an olive green work shirt and with my hair pulled up into a ponytail, I headed out to the stables. Zoey was already out there.
“You think jeans and work shirt are going to make you fit in? Well, sister, it’s going to take a lot more than that. Come on, Miss Priss. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
The first job I decided to tackle was cleaning out the stalls. I piled all the old straw in the wheelbarrow. I got the sprayer off the wall, put the nozzle on and washed out the stall. I undid the bails of straw and used the pitchfork to spread the new straw out evenly.
When I got done with the last stall, I went back to the barn to get the feed. Each horse gets one scoop of corn, oats, grain and one slab of hay.
Since today was Friday, Zoey informed me that it was also Washing Day. The very long horse hose hooked up to a water tank on the back of the truck. While I filled the soap bucket, Zoey brought the horses over to the washing area. It took all day.
Lucy sat on the front porch with her foot propped up, watching me slave away. Ty walked out of the house and stood beside her.
“How long do you plan on giving her the silent treatment?” Ty asked. “She’s working her butt off out there.”
Lucy was surprised at how hard I was working. I guess she figured I would be worried about breaking a nail. Even though she was still a little weary of me, she thought maybe she had been wrong about me. Maybe I wasn’t the lying bitch she thought I was.
Ty walked out to the stables where I was brushing the horses.
“Can I give you a hand?” he asked.
“Grab a brush. Have you always wanted to train horses?” I asked
“All my life.”
I ran my brush over the head and down the side of the neck. I stopped when I saw a crosshatch of scarring.
“What happened here?” I asked as I lightly trace my fingers over one of the scars.
“His previous owner whipped him bloody. He wanted to show him, but Jacks shied at jumps. This was his way of showing he was the boss.”
“What a prick. So you rescued him?”
“A couple of horses here are rescues, but most of them are strays. Luce can’t turn away strays either. She is so much like her mother. Daisy Mae wanted to help every helpless and friendless animal in this world. I can‘t stand to see anything being mistreated.”
“What about this one?”
“Blaze has a big, beautiful heart, but someone beat him just because he could. It just scrambles my brain how someone could ever hurt such a beautiful animal. It took me three months to get him to trust me. One day, he stuck his head out when I came in and called to me the way they do when they are happy to see you. It just took my breath away.”
And her?” I moved on to the next stall.
“Her crime was her age. She’s nearly twenty. She’d been left stabled and neglected. Her people just got bored with her, I suppose. “
The mare stretched her neck out and nuzzled my hand.
“Look, she likes you.”
“Yeah, I guess she does. What’s her name?”
“I call her Dixie. Some horses aren’t that lucky.”
What do you mean?”
“One time, I bought a five year old thoroughbred off a man. They drugged him before a race. Amphetamines. They got caught, but they had damaged Tiko’s heart and kidneys in the process. I nursed him, did everything I could. He didn’t last a year. It still gets me.” Ty rubbed his eyes.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just got some dust in my eye is all.”
Even though he didn’t know, I had seen a tear slip down his cheek. Ty went to the door and looked at the sky. Big thunderheads were starting to roll in. The wind was also beginning to pick up.
“There’s a storm coming. There isn’t time to make it back to the house. We are going to have to take up shelter here.”
Ty shut the stable door and made sure it was latched and bolted down tight.
“Is it really going to be that bad?”
“Probably not, but in never hurts to be prepared.”
The wind became stronger and actually rattled the stable walls. When I heard a clap of thunder, I shuddered. I am not afraid of thunderstorms, but every once and a while the loudness of the thunder takes me by surprise. The wind blew fiercely. For a second I thought the roof might fly off.
Just as I turned around, a loose board was blown free and struck me in the forehead. My hand went to my head as I stumbled backwards, tripped over the fallen board and fell against one of the stall doors. When I pulled my hand back from my forehead, I found it smeared with blood. I started to get woozy. The pain made me feel lightheaded and a wave of dizziness washed over me. My thoughts were jumbled as I slipped into darkness.
“Fallon? Fallon, can you hear me?” Ty dropped to his knees beside her.
She still didn’t move. Cursing, Ty pulled out his penlight and shined it on her face. He saw a nasty cut above her right eyebrow. At least she was breathing.
“Come on. Wake up, sleeping beauty.”
Ty thought he heard her whimper, but she still didn’t budge.
‘Rise and shine, damn it. Wake up and cuss me out. Kick me or kiss me, I don’t care which. Fallon, can you hear me?!”
I was trapped in a fog. In the distance sounds came and went, disjointed and low. I thought I heard Ty’s voice. The pain in my forehead was coming back. I slowly opened one eye.
“Hey, sunshine. Glad to see you’re awake. How do you feel?”
“My head hurts.”
“Well, I should think so. You have nasty little cut on your forehead. I mixed up some horse salve. You should be fine.“
It was just then I noticed Ty had wrapped his bandana around my head to act as a bandage. I tried to sit up, but my head felt like it weighed a ton. I sank back.
“Take it easy.”
“What happens now?”
“We wait for the storm to pass.”
Ty sat down on the dirt floor next to me. I laid my head against his shoulder. He slipped one arm behind me as if he were trying to protect me from the wrath of the storm. He started to hum a soft tune as I drifted back off to sleep while the wind and rain howled outside.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I got up and went into the kitchen. I was surprise to find Lucy in there.
“You know, you shouldn’t be on that foot,” I said.
Lucy turned around. “You’re as bad as Ty. I didn’t think you would still be up. I know how tiring ranch work can be and I’m used to it.”
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t sleep.”
“Can I get you some tea or something?”
“Do you have any coffee?”
“I just made a pot. I never could trust anyone who didn’t drink coffee. I guess I just pictured you as more of an herbal tea person.” She poured two cups and brought them over to the table and sat down across from me.
“I’m sorry I lied to you. I was just so hurt when I found out my father had been married to another woman other than my mother. And the fact he never told me about it. I guess I passed some of that resentment on to you and I shouldn’t have, “I started.
“I guess I understand.”
“I know how you feel about Rob and I was hoping if we can put our feelings about him aside, maybe we can be friends.”
“I was pretty hard on you. I know you couldn’t choose who your father was anymore than I could. It was just easier to hate him all these years then to accept the fact he and Daisy Mae were young fools in love. I guess I am lucky to have Zoey and Ty.”
“Well, you also have someone else.”
Zoey stuck her head inside the door to my room. I was in the bathroom taking a shower. She went over and sat on the edge of the bed where I had kicked a pair of pumps. She slipped them on and went and stood in front of the mirror. She was admiring herself so much she didn’t hear me come out of the bathroom.
“They look good on you,” I said.
She spun around and her face got all red.
“I’m sorry. I just I wanted to see what they looked like. I have never had a pair of high heels before. I’m so embarrassed.”
“It’s okay. Come here.” I pulled a pair of beige heels out of my suitcase. “I think these would fit you better. I bought these a couple months ago, but have only worn them once. They kind of pinch a little.”
“Then why did you buy them?”
“I was having a bad day. It just made me feel better.”
“That is the silliest thing I have ever heard of. What are you going to do with them?”
“Would you like to have them? They’re too narrow for me, but your foot probably isn’t as wide as mine.”
“Do you mean it?”
“I’ll tell you what. You can have these if you give me a pair of your boots and we’ll call it even. What do you say?”
“You’ve got a deal. You wouldn’t have a Louis Vinton handbag you want to get rid of do you?”
I was sitting at the kitchen table when Ty pulled into the yard. He was hauling a horse trailer behind him. I walked out. The horse inside was half lame from a knee spavin and anyone with eyes could see that he was hidebound. The horse’s color was muddy, his face was too square and made him homelier still with an off-center blaze of dirty white. Ty hosed him down and ten pounds of dirt must have come off him. It made it easier to see his ribs and his protruding hipbones. Just the sight of him made my heart squeeze.
“Are you sure he is going to be okay?” I asked Ty.
“Bots are a common enough problem. But this one had been sadly neglected.” He mixed up some blister for the knee spavin. “I’ll purge this horse tomorrow. I can’t be sure the last time he was fed.”
“What are you going to call him? I doubt he even had a name.”
“How would you like to name him?”
“Really? I can name him?”
“If you like.”
“Oh, yes. How about Lucky because he was lucky you came along when you did.”
“Sounds good to me. Lucky it is. Well, there’s nothing more I can do for him tonight.”
As I followed Ty out of the stables, my foot caught on a loose board and I tumbled in to his chest. My white crocheted vest was caught on Ty’s shirt. He wore a pin in the shape of the symbol of the ranch.
“Hold on,” he said. “You’re caught against my shirt.”
The weight of his body swung me sideways, sending me onto one heel. I hit one of the stall doors, wincing as my elbow struck the side of the box. Ty followed me down to the mound of fresh straw. Our eyes locked for a split second.
“Are you all right?” Ty asked.
“I’ve been better,” I answered.
Ty took a deep breath and then twisted onto his elbow. He worked his pin from side to side, trying to free the soft fabric,
“Can’t you stop moving?”
“I’m not moving. You are the one who’s bobbing up and down. And for your information, that’s my rib you’re stabbing with your elbow,” I replied.
He wedged two fingers under the front of my vest, in the process I found him accidentally palming my chest.
“Let me try,” I finally said. He sure wasn’t having any success. “Twist sideways onto your back.”
Ty’s eyes rolled back in his head as I clambered closer and slid one leg over his. My hips grinded into his. Ty’s heart might be dead, but his body sure wasn’t.
“Can’t you hurry?”
“I’ve almost got it,” I said. “Just a little more.” I tried to ease away, but my vest was caught even tighter now due to my movements. “I think I can break the back of this pin off, but I need to get closer.”
Any closer and she’ll be right on top of me, Ty thought.
“Forget it.” Ty tugged at the buttons of his shirt. Then he peeled off his shirt letting if fall against me. “There. Problem solved.”
But only one problem, he thought. He could still feel the weight and heat of my body on his.
“Fallon, come here. See how well he’s doing?” Lucy called to me.
I walked over and stood beside her.
Ty worked Lucky around the pen, stepping ahead of him to make him turn, snapping a catch rope at his hindquarters when he slowed down. He could read the gelding’s slightest body language, knew when he would try to turn away from him, knew when he was the most in need of a breather. Ty made kissing sounds as Lucky’s attention began to drift away from him. Immediately, he pricked his ears up and faced Ty. Ty moved slowly toward him and held a hand out for him to blow on.
“That’s a boy,” he murmured, rubbing the side of Lucky’s face. “Good for you. You’re all right.”
When Ty turned to walk away from him, Lucky dropped his head and began to follow. Ty wheeled and chased him off, putting him on the rail of the round pen at a trot. Lucky had to move when Ty wanted, turn when he wanted and how he wanted. Lucky would rest when Ty would allow it. He learned to turn and face Ty, to keep his attention on him because if he didn’t, Ty would make him run some more and he was already hot, tired and breathing hard.
“It’s amazing,” I said to Lucy. “I can’t even believe he is the same horse.”
“Ty’s a true horse whisperer. He understands them. He has always been better with horses than he has with people. Ever since Amy, his heart has grown so cold, you could hang meat on it.”
I looked back to the paddock. Ty turned Lucky in an easy figure eight with barely more than a shift of his weight and the motion of a hand. The gelding had come to stand beside him. He nudged Ty now, rubbed his head against his shoulder, tried to reach around and twitch his heavy upper lip against Ty’s shirt pocket.
“Quit it,” Ty said affectionately.
Lucky backed off a step, then tossed his head, eyes bright, not intimidated by Ty’s bluff. He chuckled, pulled off his gloves and dug into his pocket for a butter mint.
“Can’t fool you, can I?”
After the training session was finished Ty tied Lucky to a post so he could graze a while. I turned around and started heading back to the house when Lucy caught me by the arm.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked. “It’s on a legal matter.”
“I take it Zoey had probably already told you, I am not her biological mother.”
“She mentioned it.”
“Well, I’d like to go ahead and adopt her. Legal like.”
“That’s wonderful,” I exclaimed. “I’m sure she’ll be thrilled.”
“I don’t want to say anything to her just yet. The last thing I want is for her to get her hopes up and then something happens and it doesn’t work out for some reason.”
“I understand. I won’t say anything.”
“I need your help because I don’t know how I would apply for something like this. I have no idea where to start.”
“The agencies investigate the backgrounds of the parent or parents and the child. The court will give strong weight to the recommendation of those agencies.”
I went onto explain the adoptive parent or parents will obtain the rights to the custody, services and earnings of the child as though they were naturally their own. They assume all the responsibilities of support and maintenance. Since Lucy took Zoey in she was considered to be a loco parentis, which just meant she was in the place of the parent.
“Do you agree with everything I have explained?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then I’ll call my office tomorrow morning and we can get the paperwork started. Now they will send someone like a social worker out here to make sure you can properly provide for Zoey. That just means she will have all the necessities: food, clothing, and shelter things like that. And once we get this ranch up and working I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t let you adopt her.”
“You want to take a ride with me?” Ty asked after we had finished the evening chores.
“I‘d love to. I haven‘t had time to go riding since I have been out here. I really miss it.”
Ty saddled a brown horse with a white face for himself and black one with a white mark on his forehead for me.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” Ty replied.
He led me down a trail into the woods. Ty knew each shade of green, the name of each tree and every blade of grass. We had come to the top of a ridge. The view was absolutely spectacular. The valley lay below us, lush and green. The stream cut through it shining silver beneath the late summer sun.
“Oh, Ty,” I breathed. “It’s beautiful.”
“Look down there.”
In the dip of the valley stood about twenty horses, some grazing, some sniffing the wind.
“Wild,” Ty replied. “Untamed. Completely free.”
“You see that golden stallion?” Ty pointed.
“He’s my favorite. I call him Wildfire.”
All of a sudden they started running. They streaked across the rise. And in a split second they were gone. It was almost like it had been a dream.
“It’s strange,” he said. “I used to take Amy riding. We had a baby boy in December. He was so small and tiny. They had to put him in an incubator. He died three days later. I couldn’t save him anymore then I could save Amy.”
“Fallon, can I talk to you?” Zoey stuck her head through my bedroom door.
“I don’t have any more high heels.”
“That works out fine because I don’t have any more boots.”
“Sure. Come on in. Have a seat.” I patted the bed. “What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know, “ Zoey began. “There’s this guy in my English class and he’s really nice and I kind of like him. Okay, I like him a lot. But he doesn’t even know I exist. Besides he likes the prissy cheerleader types.”
“You’re beautiful the way you are. You love without holding back and dream with everything you have. If a guy doesn’t like you for who you are then he’s not worth having in the first place.”
“Do you think I’ll ever have a real boyfriend?”
“Oh, you’ll have lots of them. And some may break your heart and if I’m not mistaken, you’ll probably break a few hearts yourself. It’ll be great. And then when you least expect it, you’ll meet that one special guy…”
“You aren’t talking about me anymore, are you?”
“I was speaking theoretically.”
“Oh, come on. You think I was born yesterday. You were talking about yourself. You and Ty.”
“What about Ty?”
“You’re sweet on him. And he is sweet on you. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.”
Since the majority of the ranch had been destroyed we had start from scratch again.
The first thing we did was pick up all the dead branches and limbs that had been lost during the storm. Ty cut down all the other loose limbs and gave all the trees a much-needed trim. Zoey and I loaded all the limbs and branches onto the trailer and hauled them out to a burn pile we had created way out in left field. Zoey and I pulled out all the dead bushes around the house and replaced them with perennials bulbs that would bloom next spring. We edged out a flowerbed, pulled the weeds and mulched. Ty tilled up the entire yard. We leveled the dirt out, picked up all the big rocks and planted grass seed. We hauled more dirt to fill in the holes.
Ty power washed the house. The pressure of the water was strong enough to get rid of the rest of the peeling paint. I sanded down the front door with steel wool and added two new coats of varnish. Ty laid new wood for the porch. After water sealing the front porch I gave it a new coat of glossy white. We reattached the shudders with new hinges and I gave them all a new coat of dark green paint.
We reinforced the barn walls and replaced all the insulation. Ty even took it upon himself to re-shingle the roof. He found a scrap piece of cherry in the barn. He sanded it, stained it and burned the words Cahill Ranch into it and hung it from the porch. He gave me a bouquet of goldenrods and bluebells to brighten up the kitchen. Zoey and I worked on patching up the fences.
Finally, we were done. It was a long and tiring process, but it was so worth it in the end. Ty helped Lucy down the steps of the porch. Since he had her close her eyes, he led her to the middle of the yard where she could see everything.
“Okay, open you eyes.”
Lucy gasped. “It’s amazing. I can’t even believe this is the same place. It looks like the picture out of a magazine.”
There was also one more surprised. We had built a whole new barn behind the original one. The barn was all neatly painted rich, glossy white with dark green trim. Inside there were sloped concrete floors. The doors of the box stalls were made of strong sturdy wood. The scent of grain, saddle oil and horses was strong.
Tears of joy brimmed Lucy’s eyes when she saw it.
“Now, you can take in and help even more stray animals,” I said.
“It’s a dream come true.”
We were all still looking at the beautiful barn when a car pulled up. I turned around and saw Dean.
“It’s Dean,” I said. “He’s my friend and colleague.” I ran over to greet him. I saw a hint of jealousy in Ty’s eyes. Just the thought of me and another man drove him crazy. Even if this man was only a friend.
“Well, aren’t you the little country bumpkin,” Dean replied when he saw me dressed in dirty jeans and dusty boots. The fact that I was sweating, had dirt on my face and my hair was limp only added to the look.
“Only on the outside,” I replied.
“Here. I have the things you wanted.” He handed me two manila envelopes.
“Can you stay?” Lucy had come over. “I have some iced tea inside.”
“Thanks, but I really have to get back. I just came out to drop off this information for Fallon.”
“It‘s just some unfinished law firm business,“ I explained.
“Well it was nice to meet you folks. Take care of my pal.” Then he left
A week later, I was getting ready to leave. I had ended up staying longer than I had planned. I had accomplished everything I had come here to do and gained so much more. The only thing that bothered me was Ty wasn’t there to say good-bye.
“Do you really have to go?” Zoey asked.
“You know I do. I’ve got my work. All the life I know is back in Cheyenne.”
“I don’t know how to thank you for all you have done,” Lucy said. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
“There’s no need. It’s what families do for each other. You can come and visit me anytime.”
“If you’re ever in town we have to get together and have dinner.”
“That would be great. Here.” I handed Lucy two envelopes. “This should keep the ranch up and running for a long time to come. There’s also a little extra in there for Zoey. I know she’ll put it to good use. And these are the adoption papers. I had my office put a rush on them. All you need to do is sign them and send them in. It will still take a while to process them and everything, but it should be finalized by the middle of next year.”
“Oh, thank you, Fallon. I’m sorry I was so hard on you. I was just jealous of the privileged lifestyle you led. Also Ty is like my big brother. I didn’t want to see him get hurt,” Zoey apologized.
“I don’t want to see him get hurt either. That’s why I’m leaving. Please tell him good-bye for me, Zoey. Oh, I almost forgot.” I pulled a business-sized envelope out of the inside of my jacket pocket. “This was in with Rob’s last will and testament. It’s addressed to you, Lucy.”
“Why would Rob send me something?” Lucy asked.
“The only way to find out is to open it. But that is your choice.”
As I pulled out of the driveway, Ty was still nowhere in sight.
“I am sure going to miss her.”
“Me, too, Zoey.” Lucy ran her hand down Zoey’s long blonde hair. “Me, too.”
Lucy sat alone in her bedroom. She was torn between opening the letter from Rob or throwing it away the way Rob did with her all those years ago. In the end, Lucy felt she owed to herself and her mother to see what Rob couldn’t say to her face.
I was going to send this to you when I thought you would be old enough to understand. But I only remember you as a two year old with pigtails. I felt I did the only thing I could do. At the time I thought you and your mother would be better off without me messing up your lives.
If you are reading this right now then you know about Fallon. She is indeed your half sister. The reason I never told you about each other is because I was afraid. I had already lost one daughter. I couldn’t handle loosing another one. Now, I know you probably hate me and you have every right to.
I have included the original deeds to the ranch. I made it so the deeds would automatically be transferred to Daisy Mae’s next of kin…that’s you. So I leave you the ranch. I know this doesn’t make up for all the years of pain, but it’s all I can offer.
Robert J. Wickam
Lucy couldn’t believe it. She reread it again. After all these years, Rob had finally done right by her. The ranch was hers now and no one could take it away from her.
Ty stood on the front porch looking at the sky. He wondered if I was looking at the same moon down in Cheyenne that he was staring at that very moment. Lucy walked out and stood beside him.
“I was just thinking about our childhood. We sure had some good times. It was sure nice to see that twinkle back in your eyes these last few weeks. Ty, I wish you had gone after her. You shouldn’t have let her leave like that.”
“I didn’t tell her to leave. She left willingly.”
“Ever since she left, you have become distant. Like there’s a part of you missing. Besides I know what‘s really going on here.”
“You’re in love.”
“Am I? Your mind is not on your work and neither is your heart.”
“I re-shoed Fly.”
“Except for the fact it was Tilly that needed re-shoeing. Face it. You’re in love…with Fallon. You let her leave because you’re just a damn coward. It scares you to death because she made you feel again…feelings you thought had died.”
Ty sat alone in his room that night. He opened the drawer to his nightstand and took out an album. He slowly opened it. On the first page was the photo when they first learned Amy was expecting. Then a photo of her at six months and then eight months. The next page was a photo of the baby she and Ty had made together in love. There were no more photos after that.
Dean found me sitting in my office, eating cold Chinese food out of the carton. I found myself wondering if Ty had rescued any more horses. Was Lucky progressing more? Had he seen Wildfire again? I remember the way he walked, the way the wind blew through his hair, the soft drawl of his voice.
“What is going on with you?” Dean asked. “You have been acting different ever since you got back.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“It’s him, isn’t it? The cowboy.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“ Are you in love with him?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” I blurted out. “ I went out there to find out about my father’s past, not to fall in love with someone. That’s what has been torturing me. There were times we would look at each other, oh, Dean, I could hardly breathe. And you know better than anyone I don’t believe in fate.”
“Fallon, if you love this man, and he loves you, grab onto it with both hands and hold on. Don’t ever let go. Honey, you deserved to be loved.”
“ If he loved me he would have asked me to stay. You know, I wish I had never gone to Dry Creek. Then I never would have met Ty. I would have never known what I was missing. There is a whole different life out there I never knew existed. It’s true what they say. A taste of honey is worse than none at all.”
“I don’t think you mean that.”
“I don’t know what I mean anymore.”
“Then it’s official. You are definitely in love.”
This time I drove boldly up the driveway of Cahill Ranch. I got out of the car and took another look at all the work we had done when I heard a sound behind me. I turned. My green eyes met Ty’s blue ones. For a moment we just stared at each other. Then Ty turned around and ran away.
“Oh, Fallon, you’ve returned,” Lucy came out. “Isn’t that wonderful, Ty. Ty? Where’s he going?”
“I don’t know. I think I might have scared him off.” On a whim, I took off running toward the stables.
“Fallon, wait. Come back,” Lucy called after me, but I didn’t stop.
How could I have been so stupid? What was I thinking coming back here? No wonder Ty had run off. I led Chief out of his box. The heavy western saddle felt like it weighed a ton. I stood on an old crate and swung the saddle into place and adjusted the saddle blanket, tugging it up at Chief’s withers. I wrestled with the long latigo strap and the unfamiliar western girth. Once I accomplished that I managed to get the bridle on. I led Chief out of the stables. After I had mounted him, I directed him toward the wooded trail.
In a little valley cemetery, Ty knelt in front of Amy’s grave.
“Luce says you wouldn’t want me to be alone and I’d like to believe her. I really would, but how can history get past people like me?” He lifted the flap of his shirt pocket and pulled out a gold heart shaped locket. He opened it. Inside lay a lock of Amy’s reddish brown hair. “I have kept this with me since the day you died. I am always going to love you. But now, it’s time to move on. I am finally ready to be happy again. Good-bye, sweetheart.” Ty dug a small hole in the dirt, placed the lock of hair in it and covered it back up. He took of running for the house.
“Fallon?” he called. “Where is she?” he asked Lucy. “Where’s Fallon?”
“Last I saw she was heading toward the stables. Then it looked like she was riding Chief. I don’t have any idea where she was going.”
“I think I know where she is.”
“Where are you going?”
“Luce, I lost her once. I am not going to loose her again.”
I was staring out over the valley where I had first seen the wild horses.
“I thought you might be up here.”
I turned around and saw Ty on Dixie.
“How did you know?”
“Because this is where I come when I need to sort out my feelings and find my way back. This is my special place. I have never shown it to anyone. Not even Amy.”
“ I didn’t want it to be any harder than it had to be.”
“Nothing was the same after you left. And I was wondering if you might change your mind?”
“Oh, Ty, you and I both know that it won’t work. We are just too different.”
“After you left, I felt empty. Like there was a part of me missing.”
“No, that is exactly how I felt. But I’m Lucy’s sister,” I protested.
“But you’re not my sister. I am not saying it will or it won’t work out. But I am willing to give it a try.”
“ Do you think everything happens for a reason?” I asked.
“Sometimes. Other times I am prepared to take a few things on faith.”
“I don’t believe in fate.”
“Neither did Rob and Daisy Mae. Maybe that’s why they didn’t stay together. I believe in faith. I believe in you. And I believe in us.”
Then he took me in his arms and gave me a slow, sensual kiss, a kiss that held so much promise of a future I had never envisioned, but was now worth considering.