Scandal at the Cahill Saloon - By Carol Arens

Central Texas, early 1880s

Leanna Cahill closed the front door on the most awful hour of her life. Folks from neighboring ranches would soon be showing up with food, wanting to tell stories about Mama and Papa and trying to console the family’s grief.

She wanted none of that. No amount of food or socializing could ease a whit of the emptiness she felt. The one and only thing she wanted was to drag herself upstairs and never come down.

Apparently, her oldest brother, Quin, had other plans.

“All right, Ma and Pa are gone, but they’ve left a legacy for us.”

The signs of Quin winding up to a speech were all there. Leanna sat down on the couch in a flounce of black silk.

“We need to step up and run this ranch as a family, because that’s what they would want. Pa talked about expansion and that’s what I’m aiming for. We’ll pour the profits from the ranch and the town rents back into the 4C. Bowie, your place is here now, with your family. I’m assigning you the raising, breeding, training and sale of the horses.”

“I have a job, in case you’ve forgotten, brother.”

What had gotten into Quin? He knew how set on law enforcement Bowie was. Leanna rubbed her puffy eyes. Sorrow weighed her down with the effect of a sedative. As soon as she could, she’d escape upstairs.

“You’ll oversee the livestock and the hired hands, plus the daily running of the ranch operation,” Quin continued as though Bowie hadn’t even spoken.

“Annie, you’ll be in charge of the household. Meals, staff, and supplies…everything that Ma did.”

Since Quin was grieving, too, Leanna would allow for the fact that he might not be thinking straight. If, later on, the boys wanted to throw a party at the 4C she had the skills to play hostess. And really, Mama wouldn’t exactly be proud of her domestic skills. She’d laugh a seam open in her brand-new heavenly gown if she looked down and saw her only daughter in charge of chores.

Mama left some big shoes to fill. Leanna would be lost in them.

“Chance,” Quin went on, apparently unaware of the rising resentment in the room. “You’ll be second in command, working under me.”

“So, I’m your hired hand?” Chance shoved his hands in the pockets of his suit pants and rocked back on his heels.

That would never work. Quin had to know that.

“Now, just hold on.” Bowie stood beside her, his knee propped against the arm of the couch.

He didn’t have time for Quin’s job assignment and he told him so.

“Why do you have to go and change everything, Quin?” she asked. “We haven’t even dried our tears yet. I need to go upstairs and bawl my eyes out, not go fix you something to eat. I don’t want to be your housekeeper any more than Bowie or Chance want to be your hired hands.” Leanna stood. She plucked at a wrinkle in her skirt. “Don’t think I’m going to order the staff to get your supper, either. You can drag them from their grieving and order them yourself. Honestly, Quin, I’d rather move out on my own than let you take advantage of me.”

“This isn’t about what you want, Annie. It’s about what’s best for the 4C. We are a family and we stick together.”

Quin didn’t see it but his attitude was about to tear the family apart.

Bowie’s scowl deepened by the second. Quin went on and on about duty and how Bowie should give up his calling since it was an unworthy one, anyway. A tick pulsed in Bowie’s cheek, never a good sign.

Chance paced the room like Quin had shut him up in a cage.

“I’m a lawman,” Bowie stated. “I’m not quitting my job to come back here and be your errand boy.”

“Man up and do your part,” Quin gritted out between his teeth.

Bowie shoved Quin against the wall. A bowl from Mama’s wedding set fell on the floor and shattered. Leanna felt it slice her heart.

Quin shoved back at Bowie. He tumbled backward over the big leather chair that Papa sat in every night.

Bowie scrambled to his feet. “Go to hell and take your orders with you!”

Leanna stepped between them. She felt like she might be sick.

“Stop it!” She latched on to Bowie’s flexing arm, then Quin’s. “What do you suppose Mama and Papa would think of us? Can’t this wait until—”

“Stay out of this, Annie,” Quin ordered, then he railed at Bowie again, making all kinds of accusations.

Chance stepped away from the