The Lone Rancher - By Carol Finch


According to Quin… Two years earlier…

Quin Cahill shrugged out of his best black jacket and tossed it over the back of Pa’s favorite leather chair. He watched his two younger brothers and sister, also dressed in black, file into the parlor behind him. If he’d spent a more hellish week in his life, he couldn’t recall it. Receiving the awful news that both of his parents had died in a wagon accident during their return trip from Wolf Grove had been a devastating blow. So many raw emotions—grief, frustration and guilt, to name only a few—had hounded him every step of the funeral procession.

Despite the regret and sorrow that weighed so heavily on his heart, he knew it was his obligation to call this family meeting and get on with life, as Ma and Pa would expect him to do.

Quin inhaled a deep, cleansing breath—and stumbled over a myriad of memories that floated through every room of the spacious ranch home. Resigned to fulfilling his duty as head of the Cahill family, Quin stared somberly at his brothers and sister before focusing his full attention on Bowie, who was two years his junior.

“Bowie, you’re in charge of raising, breeding, training and selling our extra horses,” Quin stated. “You’ll give orders to the hired hands who work with our remuda.”

“I have a job, in case you’ve forgotten, brother,” Bowie snapped. “I can hardly oversee the horse operation, the livestock and hired hands if I’m already working as the sheriff in Deer County.”

Quin tossed Bowie an annoyed glance, then turned his attention to his sister, Leanna. “Annie, you’ll be in charge of the meals, our house and its staff, just like Ma.”

His sister narrowed her blue eyes and pursed her lips. She looked a lot like Ma when she did that, Quin mused.

“Why do we have to change things right now?” Leanna asked. “We haven’t even dried our tears yet. I need to go upstairs and bawl my eyes out. And honestly, I’d rather move out on my own than meekly follow the path you lay out for me.”

After she’d given her two cents, as Bowie had, Quin sent her a silencing frown. “This isn’t about what you want, Annie. It’s about what’s best for the 4C. We are family and we stick together.”

Quin half turned to face his youngest brother. “Chance, you’ll be my second-in-command.”

Chance stepped forward, looking every bit as defiant as Bowie and Leanna. “So I’m your hired hand?”

“You’ll be in charge during the spring and fall while I’m on cattle drives,” Quin tried to placate him.

“Maybe I don’t want to stay on the 4C Ranch,” Chance spouted off.

Quin’s temper tried to slip its leash, but he grabbed on to it with both hands. Unfortunately, Bowie spoke out again, ruining what was left of Quin’s good disposition.

“I have my hands full as a lawman and I’m not staying at the ranch. You may have bossed us around as kids, but we’re not kids anymore. Ma and Pa are dead. That’s the end of an era.”

Quin felt as if he’d been sucker punched. Bowie was defying Pa’s wishes and he damn well knew it. “How ungrateful can a man get?” He scowled. “You think you’re honorable and responsible enough to draw lawman’s wages? You can’t even own up to family responsibility.” He looked Bowie up and down and smirked. “You’re hardly a model sheriff. You need to resign and take your rightful place on the ranch, as Pa wanted.”

Bowie puffed up with indignation and took a challenging step toward Quin. “I’m good at what I do.”

“You should be using your supposed talent to round up the bandits and rustlers that threaten the 4C and your own family,” Quin countered. “Do I need to remind you that Pa was none too thrilled when you walked away from here to defend people you didn’t even know?” He glared angrily at Bowie. “You disappointed Pa. He grumbled to me plenty of times. And who do you think got stuck with the extra chores? It sure wasn’t Annie or Chance.”

“Is that why you’re mad? Because of the extra work?” Bowie snorted.

No, Quin thought, it was because he felt as if his family was ignoring the hopes and dreams of their parents. His past resentments didn’t hold a candle to the sense of betrayal roiling through him right now.

“Hell, hire another hand or two,” Bowie suggested flippantly. “It’s not like we can’t afford it.”

“How would you know what we can afford?” Quin taunted. “You haven’t been