The sun was just peeking over the horizon as the two travelers were having coffee and breakfast. The sleep still showing in their eyes, they did not speak while waiting for the coffee to give their systems a jump-start. When they were finished eating their bacon and biscuits, the man took the plates to the stream and washed them off.
Jack looked over at his boss and friend, “How long before we arrive in Stockton, Sue?”
“I guess we will get there about noon or there about.” said Sue. “That will be plenty of time to see Charity, visit the bank, see the ranch and get some rooms for the night.”
“I can’t believe that Charity wrote you about that ranch. It sure sounds like a great deal. I wonder if there is some catch to it.”
“Jack, are you trying to tell me you don’t trust Charity? You better not let her catch wind of that, she would be mortally wounded!” exclaimed Sue.
“No! I would never consider Charity to be untrustworthy. I was just wondering why someone else hadn’t grabbed the ranch.” said Jack quickly.
“Well, we will see when we get there. I am looking forward to a new start, putting down some roots and building something.” said Sue with a far off look in her eyes.
Jack watched his friend’s face take on that far away look that it had been getting more and more lately since Charity had written her about the ranch. Most men didn’t like having a female as a boss since they seemed to think women should just be in the kitchen, keeping house and having babies. Not this woman though, this was a woman to ride the river with. She could take care of herself as well as any man and wouldn’t stand for any nonsense either. She could shoot as well as a man but because of her beautiful face with the green eyes, auburn hair and full lips most men were deceived into thinking she needed protection. Though sometimes her sarcastic tongue could hurt more than the bullets from a gun and it was the majority of men who needed protection from her.
All of the men that had worked with her on her father’s ranch respected, admired and would do anything for her. It was not something that she took lightly, it had been something that she had earned through hard work and dedication. When the ranch had to be sold as stated in the terms of the will, he could almost feel her losing a part of her soul. This was the new start she needed to once again put the life back into her and the spring back into her step.
“Let’s hit the trail Jack” said Sue as she poured the coffee pot over the flames to put out their fire. She then rinsed the coffeepot and put it in the pack on the horse. Jack took the rope for the packhorse while Sue tightened the girth on her saddle and climbed on her chestnut.
“It will sure be good to see Charity again, Sue. Do you think she’s still a missionary?” asked Jack.
“Unless she’s been swept off her feet, you can bet on it Jack. Why, are you going to offer her something better or are you afraid you may be too late?” asked Sue innocently.
“Hey, that’s not funny!” exclaimed Jack as his face turned a deep red. “She’s a nice girl and I was just wondering is all! I am not the marrying kind, I will always be a bachelor.”
“That’s what they all say, Jack. That’s what they all say!”.
Sue chuckled as she started her horse into a gallop with Jack following. Jack just shook his head as he heard his friend laughing. Sue was well aware of the fact that Charity occupied Jack’s thoughts a lot. In fact, he was quite smitten with her even if Jack thought no one else could see it.
The two riders sat and watched the busy streets of Stockton hustling and bustling with Saturday shoppers. Their eyes were watchful and missed nothing under their hats as they walked their horses down the street.
“This sure is a busy place, Sue” said Jack. “I didn’t realize Stockton was this size of town.”
“Yeah, I think this will be a good place to put down some roots. Now let’s go to the bank before it closes and get the account all set up.” stated Sue while starting her horse towards the Bank of Stockton with Jack following.
Sue dismounted and tied her chestnut to the hitching rail. She dusted the trail dust off her black jeans, vest and shirt. Untying her saddle bags, she waited for Jack and started up the stairs to the bank. At that moment, a cowboy in a black hat stepped through the door of the bank. Since he was speaking to someone behind him, he didn’t see Sue before barreling into her.
“Excuse me, ma’am” he said after grabbing her arm before she could fall. “I didn’t see you there.”
“My name is Nick and I apologize for not watching where I was going.” said Nick while smiling and staring into the most striking pair of green eyes he had ever seen.
“I imagine you must be one of those people.” Sue said while glaring at Nick.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you are talking about. What kind of people must I be?” inquired Nick.
“Well, Nick, I can only assume you must be one of those people with eyes in the back of their heads from the way you walk with your head turned around.” stated Sue as she pulled her arm from his grasp.
“NOW LOOK HERE!” exclaimed Nick angrily.
“Well, I guess you have been found out, brother Nick!” chuckled Jarrod as he tipped his hat to Sue. “May I extend my apologies also, Miss. I am Jarrod Barkley, Attorney at Law. This as you have heard is my brother Nick. May I inquire as to your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Barkley Attorney at Law.” quipped Sue sarcastically. “Let’s go Jack.”
Sue walked by the shocked brothers into the bank. Jack followed with a grin on his face.
“Gentlemen, her bark is as bad as her bite.” chuckled Jack as he closed the bank door.
Nick was the first to recover from the chance meeting. He looked at Jarrod with a shocked expression on his face. As they started walking towards Jarrod’s office, Nick started raving.
“CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT? I think someone needs to tame that spitfire of a girl!”
“I suppose you think you are the man for that job Nick. Somehow, I don’t think this is a typical woman. Did you notice she was packing a gun?” asked Jarrod.
“Yeah, I noticed. It is unusual to see a woman carry a gun unless she’s a criminal. Hey, they could be robbing the bank right now. Maybe we better check this out!” exclaimed Nick.
“Nick, we can’t go accusing someone of a crime just because they wear a gun. She may wear it for reasons like self-protection or varmints. I was just wondering if you noticed it or if you were just lost in her eyes.” joked Jarrod.
“Very funny! Let’s get this stuff taken care of so we can get back to the ranch.” said Nick angrily as he strode off in front of Jarrod while listening to his brother chuckle.
Inside his office, Jarrod offered Nick a glass of brandy and poured one for himself.
“That takes care of all of the paperwork, Nick. Heath is now a full pledged partner in the Barkley holdings.” stated Jarrod as he saluted Nick with his glass.
“I still think we are making a mistake Jarrod. I don’t care what you and Mother think. THAT BOY IS NOT A BARKLEY!.” growled Nick as he downed his drink.
“Nick, you may as well get used to it. Heath is here to stay and he is a Barkley even if you don’t want to admit it.” chided Jarrod. “As Mother has stated, he favors father and grandfather in more ways than one.”
“So, he has the Barkley coloring, that doesn’t prove anything to me. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Did you check into the Henderson ranch and see if there is anyway we could get around the terms of the will?”
“There is nothing we can do Nick. The will was quite concise in the terms of the sale of the ranch. It can only be sold to someone who previously lived in Texas and who has no family connections in Stockton. Abe Henderson really got the last laugh with the terms of his will.”
“That land would be perfect for us Jarrod. It has the water and grazing land that we need and borders our ranch. Isn’t there anything we can do? I still can’t believe that after all of these years Henderson hated Father that much. It is all out of spite and jealously. It wasn’t Father’s fault that Abe couldn’t make more of his ranch. It was because of his drinking and gambling and now we have to pay for Henderson’s own mistakes in his life.” said Nick angrily.
“I know that Nick, however, it doesn’t change anything. Only an outsider can purchase that ranch. No matter how we look at it we will be gaining new neighbors.” said Jarrod.
“Maybe Heath can buy it and sell it to us. He lived in Texas for a while and he is an outsider.” stated Nick.
Jarrod rolled his eyes and said, “Heath is our brother, therefore, he has a family connection in Stockton and not eligible to buy the ranch.”
“Yeah, so you keep saying he’s our brother. I don ‘t think we will ever agree on that subject. Let’s go home. I still have a lot of work to do before dinnertime.” said Nick as he walked to the door.
“Nick, you have to get used to the fact that you have a new brother. One who I may add works very hard and diligently at everything that he does trying to gain your approval. “ said Jarrod softly as his brother walked out the door.
Jarrod locked up his office and walked outside to Jingo. Nick was already on Coco and ready to go. As they walked the horses up the street, Nick motioned with his head towards the bank.
“Think we should make sure our money is still in the bank safe before we leave?” asked Nick.
Jarrod laughed and shook his head at his brother. Sometimes Nick had the strangest notions.
“No, I think we can let the law worry about that. Let’s see who can get home first.” challenged Jarrod.
“You’re on, Mr. Barkley, Attorney at Law” chuckled Nick while nudging Coco into a gallop.
Sue and Jack paused letting their eyes adjust to the light of the interior of the bank. Glancing around they noted the bank was typical in its design with a couple of windows for customers to transact their business. In the corner of the bank was a large safe. Off to the side of the safe, an area of the bank was sectioned off by a wooden railing with a swinging door. Behind the desk in this area was a brown haired man dressed in a suit reading from a book of some sort. The sign on the desk read ‘John Travis, Manager’. As they walked up to the desk, the man looked up and stood as he saw the two people making their way towards him. Sue noted he was an average looking man and around 5 feet eight inches tall.
“Good morning, may I help you?” asked Mr. Travis while extending his right hand to Jack.
As Mr. Travis shook Jack’s hand, Jack hid a smile as Sue rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, I believe you can Mr. Travis. My name is Suzanne Weston and this is my foreman, Jack Franklin. I would like to discuss the purchase of the Henderson ranch.”
Mr. Travis blushed as he realized he had made an embarrassing mistake by assuming the woman was the man’s wife. As he shook her hand, Sue was struck by the thought that this man’s hand had never done hard work from the feel of it. He has probably been a city boy all his life. I don’t understand how someone can live in town all of the time, she thought with disgust.
“Please have a seat. Yes, that ranch is for sale, however, there are some particular provisions of the late Mr. Henderson’s will that must be verified before any purchase can be made.” explained Mr. Travis with a puzzled look on his face. “May I ask how you know this particular ranch is for sale, Mrs. Weston?”
“It is Miss Weston. A friend of mine wrote me to let me know of the ranch and also described the terms of the will that was left by Mr. Henderson” said Sue as she was taking a piece of paper from her saddlebags. “I have taken the liberty of having a letter notarized which states that I am from the state of Texas and have no family connections here in Stockton. My only living relative died six months ago. As you will see, the letter is notarized by Judge Nathan Mathis from Houston.”
As John Travis read the letter, he had to fight to control the fury that was building inside his body. He could not believe it! He had plans for that ranch himself and here was some snippet of a girl thinking she was going to buy it. First, the Barkleys and now this! His day was not going very well and it was all he could do from keeping it from showing on his face. He had to stall somehow until he could think this thing out.
Sue glanced at Jack with a question in her eyes while the manager was reading the letter. She could sense the manager’s hesitation and she wondered if they had made the long trip for nothing. Jack shrugged and winked at Sue.
Sue smiled sweetly at the manager. “I trust you will find that everything is in order, Mr. Travis. I have already notified Mr. Henderson’s attorney that I was interested in the purchase of the ranch.”
“Yes, everything does appear to be complete according to the terms of the will. Of course, as the executor of Mr. Henderson’s will, I will need to confer with Mr. Baldwin and obtain his confirmation before the sale can be completed.” advised John as he gazed into those green eyes.
“Well, of course, I would expect no less from the executor and attorney of Mr. Henderson.” said Sue smiling. “Mr. Franklin and I will be staying at the Cattleman’s Hotel until we have completed the purchase of the ranch. But, first I would like to open an account and deposit this bankdraft. I will be drawing against that and Mr. Franklin is to have access to the account, also.”
“Yes, that can certainly be set up for you. If you would complete these papers, I will be happy to assist you. Once I have conferred with Mr. Baldwin, I will contact you at the hotel.” stated John.
“Thank you, Mr. Travis, however that won’t be necessary. After we have set up the account, I will be visiting Mr. Baldwin and will let him know that we have discussed the property with you and have the necessary funds available for the transaction.” said Sue as she started completing the necessary paperwork.
“Jack, can you give me the check please?” asked Sue.
Jack took the check out of his pocket and gave it to his boss. Sue handed the paperwork and check to Mr. Travis. Mr. Travis’ eyes widen when he saw the amount of the deposit. This girl had more than enough money to purchase the ranch with extra. This is getting worse and worse he thought.
As John Travis handed a receipt to Sue, he smiled and said “Perhaps I could have the pleasure of dining with you this evening, Miss Weston and I would consider it a honor to show you around our wonderful city.”
Sue pouted her lips and with a look of disappointment on her face stated, “I am so sorry I will be unable to have the pleasure of your company this evening, Mr. Travis. I am afraid I have another engagement. However, perhaps another time.”
As Sue and Jack stood, Mr. Travis walked around the desk and escorted them to the door.
“Yes, perhaps another time Miss Weston. It was a pleasure to meet you and Mr. Franklin. I hope we have many opportunities to work together in the future. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you need anything.” said John as he smiled at her like a cat smiles at a canary.
“Thank you for your kind offer and good day to you, sir.” said Sue before she stepped out onto the sidewalk while Jack closed the door behind them.
As they walked to the horses, Jack chuckled. “Are you sure you don’t want to have someone else’s company for dinner tonight? I thought that smile was going to get stuck on your face! Hey, maybe this guy Travis is the one for you!”
“Ha ha, Jack. Shut up and get your horse.” said Sue as she was untied the reins of her horse from the hitching post. “ I guess what they about using honey to attract bees or something like that is true. But that guy was like a snake and I don’t think using honey to attract a snake will work.”
As they walked their horses toward the Cattleman’s hotel, Jack was looking around for the mission where Charity would be. Not seeing it, he said “I don’t see the mission on this street. What if Charity has had to move on? It has been a couple of months since the letter came.”
“I sent her a wire before we left Texas. I am sure she is still here. We will ask at the hotel for directions to the mission. Let’s get our rooms and then we will go visit your girlfriend.” teased Sue.
“Very funny, Mrs. Travis to be” shot Jack back as he ducked under the hand she swung at him.
“That is not funny Jack! You better be careful or I will have to find myself a new foreman! I am sure there are plenty of cowboys here willing to take that job.” stated Sue smiling at her friend.
“Okay, okay, I call a truce. I can’t loose a cushy job like this.” laughed Jack while following Sue into the lobby of the hotel.
The lobby of the Cattleman’s hotel was neat and clean. Through an opening outlined by a curtain, a dining room could be seen with tables covered by checked tablecloths and candles in the middle of the tables. The desk clerk smiled at the two newcomers.
“Good afternoon. Welcome to the Cattleman’s. My name is Harvey and I am the man to see if you need anything while you are staying at our establishment.”
“Well, thank you Harvey. We will need two rooms and a place to clean off some of this trail dust.” said Sue as she signed the register.
“Miss Weston, your room will be number 5 and Mr. Franklin’s will be number 6. They will be across from each other and I will have Maria and Jose show you to the bathing facilities after you have settled in.” stated Harvey as he rang the bell which signaled a mexican boy of about age 14 to come to the front desk.
“Jose, please show these people to rooms 5 and 6 and then they will need to use the bathing facilities.”
“Si, Senor Harvey” said Jose as he lead the way up the stairs.
Sue smiled at Jose as he opened his door for her.
“Thank you for your assistance Jose and I would like for you to take our horses to the livery and see that they are properly taken care of. They are the two chestnuts tied up in front of the hotel. They have carried us quite a ways and need some extra grooming.” said Sue as she handed him a silver dollar and watched his eyes light up.
“Thank you senorita. I will take excellent care of your horses and will groom them myself!” exclaimed Jose with a proud look on his face as he ran down the hallway towards the backstairs.
Jack opened his door and said, “How about if we meet after our baths and take a walk to the mission?”
“Sounds good to me. See you in a bit, Jack” Sue said as she shut the door behind her.
Glancing around the room, she put her saddlebags on the bed and walked to the window. Opening the curtain, she glanced down at the street watching the people moving about. Spying two familiar figures on their horses, Sue chuckled as she remembered the look on Nick Barkley’s face when she commented on the type of person he was. It was definitely a handsome and strong face with such beautiful hazel eyes. Much better than that city boy, John Travis. Wonder if those Barkley boys are snakes like that bank manager. Sue frowned as she pondered on that. A knock on her door interrupted her train of thought.
Opening the door, she spied a matronly looking mexican lady.
“Your bath is ready senorita.” said Maria as she stepped aside to allow Sue to follow her to the bathing facilities.
“Thank you, senora” said Sue as she handed her a silver dollar before closing the door.
Two hours later a freshly bathed Jack and Sue were walking to the mission after obtaining the directions from Dan Baldwin, esquire. They had made arrangements with Mr. Baldwin, Henderson’s attorney to ride out and inspect the property the next day. Mr. Baldwin was a very pleasant man with an outgoing personality. Sue liked him and felt he may be the person to hire as her attorney to handle any of her legal affairs. Jack and Sue stopped in front of a rundown building with the words “Stockton Mission” painted on the windows. Jack knocked on the door and they waited for a response. When no one answered, Jack knocked again.
“Guess she must be out.” said Jack quietly. “Probably doing whatever missionaries do.”
“Sure seems that way, Jack. Hey, we didn’t tell her what day we would be here. Don’t look so disappointed. We’ll ask Jose to come back, leave her a note and then she can come to the hotel to see us.” said Sue concerned by the look on her friend’s face.
Putting a smile on his face, he said “You’re right. Sorry, I was just looking forward to catching up with our old friend. How about if I buy you some dinner?”
“That would be my pleasure.” said Sue as they walked back to the hotel while discussing tomorrow’s visit to the ranch and what they hoped to see while they were there.
Nick laughed as he and Jarrod walked to the house from the barn. “Did you honestly think you were going to win? A lawyer could never beat a cowpoke when it comes to a horse race!”
“Nick, Nick, Nick. You should know by now that I only let you win because you are younger than me.” joked Jarrod with his blue eyes sparkling.
“Sounds like typical lawyer smooth talking to me. You couldn’t see the day when you could beat me in a race.” boasted Nick.
“Mother,” shouted Nick as they came through the front door.
“Boy Howdy Nick, you almost burst my ear drum!” said Heath as he walked by his older brothers.
Jarrod chuckled and slapped Nick on the back. “Better get used to it Heath or get some ear plugs!”
“I didn’t yell that loud.” exclaimed Nick angrily as he saw Heath sporting a lopsided grin. “Did you finish that fenceline or do we have to get someone else to do the job?”
Jarrod winced as the grin on Heath’s face disappeared and fury shown from his blue eyes.
“It’s completed. But since you probably don’t believe me, why don’t you ride out and look for yourself, brother.” snarled Heath back.
“Boy, don’t talk to me like that! I only asked you if the job was finished.” shouted Nick. “I don’t need your attitude on top of everything else.”
“What is going on in here?” demanded Victoria as she walked in from the kitchen.
“Just a discussion of fenceline, Mother” said Jarrod as he kissed his mother on the cheek and gave her a “here we go again” look.
“Dinner will be ready in a half an hour. Why don’t we go into the parlor for a before dinner drink?” Victoria suggested as Nick kissed her cheek.
“Sounds wonderful Mother, but I need to go wash up.” said Nick as he turned and went up the stairs to his room.
“Thank you ma’am but I was thinking of taking a walk before dinner.” said Heath quietly as he hurried out the front door.
“It appears it will only be us for the before dinner drink. Will you join me kind, sir?”
“I would be honored, my lady.” stated Jarrod as he took his mother’s arm and they walked into the parlor.
As Jarrod poured their drinks, he told his mother of the paperwork he and Nick had filed with the bank. Jarrod turned around when his mother did not comment and saw her looking out the french doors. He came up behind her and saw Heath as he leaned on the corral watching a new stallion in the paddock.
Victoria sighed and was lost in deep thought. What if Nick never accepted Heath as a brother? Heath could be the partner that Nick needed to help with the ranch. He thoroughly enjoyed the work and would always do more than anyone else just to make Nick happy. Nick, however wouldn’t even acknowledge that his new brother worked like a dog all day long just hoping to hear one word of encouragement from his big brother. Why couldn’t Nick see that Heath wasn’t here for the money. It was due to his need for a family that he stayed and endured Nick’s wrath and the looks from others in the community. Everyone else in the family saw it, everyone but who really needed to see it. Those two were cut from the same cloth and needed each other very much.
“Mother,” said Jarrod shaking Victoria from her thoughts. “It will happen in time.”
Victoria smiled at her eldest son who had stepped into his father’s shoes as head of the Barkley family.
“I am afraid it will happen too late. Too late for Nick to take back all of the things he had said or insinuated towards Heath. Too late because Heath will be gone. I should have let Nick know before how I know that Heath is your father’s son. I only hope I am not too late.”
“Mother, if you have proof why didn’t you tell the whole family?” puzzled Jarrod.
“You and Audra had accepted Heath as a brother. Even Eugene in the short time he was here before he went back to school considers Heath his brother. It was not necessary to bring up old history that would affect your perception of your father. I just thought Nick needed a little more time. It is very personal and not something I wanted to discuss.” said Victoria.
“Have I told you lately how much I admire and love my mother?” asked Jarrod as he gave his mother a hug. “I know this is hard for you, but you have never shown it. Never given into what others have said to do. If Heath does decide he’s had enough of Nick, I think you will make the difference in whether Heath stays or goes. He needs you and he respects you, Mother.”
“Thank you Jarrod” said Victoria while returning his hug.
The entire Barkley family was at the dinner table promptly at 7:00. Though the atmosphere was tense, Victoria was thankful that she could count on her vivacious daughter to find a topic of conversation that was lively and neutral. Audra was bubbling with excitement as she talked about the upcoming festival in two weeks to raise money for repairs to the orphanage’s buildings.
“The festival is going to be exciting and wonderful!” exclaimed Audra. “We are going to have a lot of different booths and a dance. Charity Jones really has some wonderful ideas.”
“Well, now that does sound like fun. I wonder which lovely lady will have the privilege of my company.” boasted Nick as he ran through a list of eligible ladies.
“Modest as ever, Nick. Perhaps you can ask the newest arrival to Stockton to accompany you to the dance.” laughed Jarrod as Nick’s face turned red.
“What new arrival?” asked Audra.
“Oh, just someone Nick bumped into today as we were leaving the bank.” said Jarrod secretively.
“Really!! Was she pretty? Where does she live? What’s her name?” asked Audra excitedly.
“She didn’t give us her name and yes, she is very beautiful.” said Jarrod as he smiled at Nick.
“Yeah, I guess she’s all right if you like the thorns on a rosebush!” said Nick angrily. “I wouldn’t take her to the dance if she was the last unattached woman in the state of California or even in the whole United States!!”.
“Why Nick? What happened?” quizzed Audra trying to determine why a woman had this affect on her big brother.
“Nothing worth talking about, little sister.” said Nick as he shot a look at Jarrod who was laughing.
Victoria smiled at the teasing conversation bouncing back and forth between the siblings around the table. I wonder who this new lady is that has Nick in such a huff. She must have really done something to rub his fur the wrong way.
Her smiled faded as she noticed Heath was not partaking or even smiling at the conversation. He was pushing his food around on his plate, deep in thought.
“Heath, how was your day?” asked Victoria.
“It was fine ma’am.” stated Heath quietly while looking down at this plate.
“Do you have anyone in mind that you would like to accompany to the dance?”
Heath shifted in his chair. “Well, I wasn’t figuring on going to the dance since I am not much on dancing. I thought it might be best if I stayed here.”
“Heath! You have to come! It’s going to be one of the biggest social events of the year! I can’t wait to show off all my handsome brothers” exclaimed Audra.
“Yes, Heath. Audra is right. The Barkley family has had a long tradition of giving and leading in the community. The community would expect all of us to be there and as a member of the Barkley family, I would expect no less from you.” said Victoria while smiling at Heath.
“It will be fun Heath. I can introduce you to some of my girlfriends. You will have a grand time!”
“Hey, you never introduced any of your girlfriends to me Audra!” said Nick jealously.
“That’s because you scared them away before I could, Nick Barkley!” shot Audra back at her brother.
Jarrod and Victoria laughed causing Nick to blush. Victoria saw the corners of Heath’s mouth turn up and again was thankful for Audra’s outgoing personality.
“What do you say Heath?” asked Victoria after the laughter had died down.
Heath smiled at his stepmother, “I would be honored to be there as a member of the Barkley family. Thank you, ma’am. Now if you will excuse me, I am going upstairs. It has been a long day.”
Nick rolled his eyes but did not say anything as everyone bade Heath a good night. As Audra and Jarrod walked into the parlor, Victoria stopped Nick with a hand on his arm.
“Nick, I would like to speak to you in the study.”
“I am tired myself mother, can’t this wait?” asked Nick.
“No, I am afraid I have waited too long as it is. Come along, Nicholas.” stated his mother in a voice that left no room for discussion.
Nick followed his mother into the study feeling like he was being lead to the principle’s office in school. He poured a glass of sherry for his mother and one for himself. He handed his mother her drink and took a seat in the chair opposite her on the couch. Victoria could tell by how stiffly he sat on the chair he was not going to make this easy.
“Is there something you were wondering about the ranch, Mother?” asked Nick innocently.
Victoria looked at Nick and let him know with her eyes that she was not going to be swayed from the topic of conversation. As she sipped her drink, she gathered her thoughts and started speaking.
“Nick, I am going to tell you how I know Heath is your father’s son and your brother. I am going to tell you something that I have not told anyone else, including Jarrod, Audra or Eugene.” said Victoria while gazing into her son’s hazel eyes.
“I already know that you consider his coloring to be similar to father and grandfather, Mother. That doesn’t mean anything as there are lots of people in the world that have the same coloring!” huffed Nick.
“There are some things that a child should never know about his parent’s marriage. Things that are quite frankly, none of their business. However, I cannot have you treating your brother in the manner you have been and since my telling you Heath is your brother has not helped you to accept him, I will tell you how I positively know Heath is your brother.”
“I knew about Leah, Nick” stated his mother matter-of-factly as the shock showed on Nick’s face.
As Nick sat stunned, his Mother continued in a low soft voice.
“When you were eight years old, your father told me about Leah when he was sick with the fever . He thought he was going to die. He did not want to take that secret with him to his grave and felt he had to atone for his sins. Yes, he had an affair with her, he regretted it and begged my forgiveness that night. I was shocked and hurt, but I forgave your father. He had made a mistake and it had been slowly eating away at him. Once your father recovered from the fever, it was difficult but we put all our efforts into making our marriage stronger. I know your father loved me and his family, Nick. Your father was not a saint. He was just a man who had strayed from his path in life.”
“I don’t believe it! My father and another woman?” said Nick shaking his head as his mind reeled with this new information about the man he thought he had known.
“It is true Nick. Leah having a child was a consequence that we should have considered but never did. Perhaps, subconsciously I didn’t want to know. When Heath came to us, I knew that your father and I had make a dreadful mistake. I will have to live with that the rest of my life, Nick.”
“I don’t know understand how father could have done that to you, Mother!” said Nick with tears in his eyes. “How could he do that to his family?”
Victoria stood in front of Nick and raised his face to hers. “Don’t make Heath pay for something he didn’t have any control over, Nick. Open your heart and you will see that he is a fine man. A man you should be proud to call brother.”
Victoria stroked his cheek, kissed his forehead and walked to the door of the study. As she looked back at Nick , she knew she had done the right thing.
“This will make all the difference now,” she thought. As difficult as it may be for Nick to come to terms with his father’s actions, she had faith he would do the right thing.
“Nick, I do not want this conversation to leave this room. It was for your ears only. Now it is up to you to decide what you are going to do. I love you. Good night, son.”
Nick nodded as he was too stunned to say anything. Thoughts of anger and deception were running through his mind uncontrollably. His chest felt as though a band was being tightened around it, his throat hoarse and dry. His stomach was revolting from the disgust of it. His father and Heath’s mother!
Everything he knew about the man was a lie! How could the father he worshipped do such an unspeakable thing to his wife and family.
As he looked at the portrait over the mantle, tears streamed down his face as he shook his fist at his Father, “How could you, Father? How could you throw away your wedding vows? How could you hurt Mother that way? WHY? WHY?”
As emotions overwhelmed and engulfed his whole being, Nick sank to his knees and sobbed uncontrollably. After the tears and the shaking subsided, he gained a small measure of control. Nick wiped his eyes and stood slowly as though he was a newborn colt on wobbly legs.
“I will never forgive you, Father. Never!” vowed Nick as he shook his fist at his Father one last time and left the study slowly.
Saturday night in the Red Dog Saloon was always a busy night. All different types of patrons came together to drink, play cards and pass the night away. The air was thick with cigar and cigarette smoke, the conversation was loud and boisterous. On a piano in the corner, a man tickled the ivory keys causing a lively tune to be heard throughout the room.
The lively tune did nothing to the improve the mood of John Travis as he sat at a table alone with a bottle in front of him. John Travis was the embodiment of an angry, ambitious and dissatisfied person. The citizens of Stockton knew him as a polite, friendly and generous person of their community, but that was all a façade. Inside the bitterness grew until he thought it would choke him.
“I want what they have! I deserve what they have,” he thought bitterly. “I am so close to getting everything I have planned and work so long for.”
“All that time I spent gaining the confidence of Abe Henderson, knowing that Henderson’s hatred of the Barkleys would work to my advantage. I can’t believe Abe didn’t tell me about that Texas provision in his will. Now it could all be for nothing just because someone wrote a letter to a girl from Texas!”
As he sat contemplating his next move, he heard the drunken slur of a dirty cowboy at the next table, “I don’t like it and I don’t like him. I don’t know why Nick don’t kick him off the ranch. It’s not right his living in the big house!”
“Knock it off Barrett, you’re drunk!” said his companion, Scotty. “You don’t want this to get back to the Barkleys. They wouldn’t like it.”
“I don’t care if it gets back to the high and mighty Barkleys! That bastard took away my chance at moving up in the future. You know Nick has always counted on me and now look what happens.” said Barrett angrily.
“Well, I am not going down with you, Barrett! You’re on your own!” said Scotty as he took his glass of beer and walked to the bar leaving Barrett alone at the table.
John Travis was nothing, if not an opportunist.
“Barrett, how about sharing this bottle with me?” asked John. “May as well not drink alone if you don’t have to.”
“Oh, sure. Sorry, I didn’t see you there, Mr. Travis.” said Barrett after he sat at John’s table. Barrett poured a drink from the bottle and saluted the bank manager across from him with his glass.
“How are things going at the ranch?” inquired John as he sipped his drink. “I couldn’t help but hear you are having some problems with a certain boss.”
“That bastard ain’t my boss! One of these days, he’s gonna push me too far!” growled Barrett.
“I can understand your position, Barrett. A hard working man like yourself shouldn’t be held back just because some mistake shows up from old Tom Barkley’s past. I hear that Nick Barkley doesn’t even believe his story and would like to see Heath gone.” sympathized John. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know, why?” asked Barrett suspiciously.
“Well, I have several avenues I have been considering. I think you and I can help each other with this particular situation. Are you open to being a silent partner?” smiled John mysteriously.
“Sure, I’d do anything to get rid of that bastard. What you got in mind?”
“Why don’t we meet tomorrow afternoon and discuss my plans in a more quiet location. How about my house around 2:00? Make sure you’re not seen. We don’t want anyone wagging their tongues and spoiling everything. Can you make it?”
“Sure, Mr. Travis. I will be there and thanks.” said Barrett.
“Anytime Barrett. I have to leave but you stay here and finish the bottle. It’s all paid for. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Things are starting to look better already,” thought Travis with an evil smile on his face as he walked out the swinging doors into the cool night air.