Chapter One "The Ranch"
Saturday, October 1st, 2011, 12pm.
I watched as my father greeted my grandmother's neighbors after her funeral. They all had came out for the sad death of Mrs. Trudy Preston and her husband, Phineas Preston, aka Preston, both of them had been at this same ranch house when they had been tragically and horrifically murdered. (We were having the reception outside in a big white tent.)
My father was first to receive the call and we flew straight out. Sheriff Ballard told us all he could and I tried to console my father as much as I could, but the details were pretty gruesome. From the way the Sheriff acted it was the first time something like this had happened out here.
I sighed as I looked around. Usually Imp and Angel would be nudging me but tragically they had been killed too. Which was so stupid, why couldn't they leave the dogs?
I saw Grace Forster walk in and smiled sadly. She had been great to us since we had gotten here, her family had taken us all in their guest bunkhouse and invited us to dinner every night since we had been here. She was one of grandma's best friends.
Then came Sam, her granddaughter, Brynna, her daughter in law carrying her son, Cody. Then silent Wyatt and their cowboys. I was very grateful to see all of these people—even though I didn't know them—come out for my grandma. It meant tons, even though they didn't know.
Across the tent, Gabe, my cousin, motioned for me to come to him.
"What is it Gabe?" Gabe was a year older than me(he was 19) and we were best friends. I was so happy he was able to walk again ever since his accident.
"Look at Faith." He pointed to the three year old paint filly out in the pasture. She was running, so free, so happy and I smiled.
"She's so beautiful." I said to him.
He nodded. "But she's got nothing on my Firefly." Gabe was talking about his five year old mustang stallion, who he had adopted a couple of years ago with grandma's pushing. Gabe loved that horse more than anything in the world.
"You're biased." I told him. Gabe just shrugged.
"Do you miss her, Charlie?" Gabe asked me.
I felt my eyes fill with tears. I just nodded so I didn't burst into tears in front of everyone, I was doing my best not to cry.
Gabe put his arms around me and I hugged him back. "Me too." Gabe said.
We stayed like that, watching Faith in the pasture until our parents called us to the front of the tent to make our family announcement and thank everyone for coming. We walked, holding hands towards the front. I stood by my dad while Gabe stood by his mom.
"Thank you all for coming out to honor my mother and her loving husband, Preston. It's sad about how their lives ended, all I can say is that I'm glad they were together." My dad cleared his throat. "You all have been so generous and kind to us, taking care of the horses here, taking us in. You've been absolutely wonderful. Thank you all for that."
My dad stepped down and my Aunt Ruth followed him to talk to some people. I let go of Gabe's hand and left the tent. I walked into the pasture, not caring I was in high heels, and saw Faith.
I walked to Faith, speaking as I got closer to let her know I was there and gently ran my hands over her silky coat. "Hey beautiful girl, full of high spirits today? Or are you just as ornery and high spirited as my grandma was?"
"I'd say it was the second one." I heard my father's voice behind me. I turned around to face him with a frown. "Your grandma was pretty high spirited and ornery."
"Dad, what's going to happen to the horses?" I asked, not daring to look at him now.
"I don't know Charlie. I don't know. You know I can't stay here and run the ranch, I would if I could but I have no clue what I'm doing and I can't leave my job. I guess we'll have to sell the ranch and talk to the BLM about the horses."
My eyes filled with tears for the horses. "They're going to put them down just like they were going to before."
My dad hesitated. "Not necessarily, Charlie. They might find adopters."
"They won't be able to run free like they are though, Dad."
Dad sighed. "I know Charlie, I know. It's sad, very sad." Dad sounded tired and older. I knew this was all very hard on him but I was worried for the horses. "Are you going to come back in?"
"Not yet. I want to stay out here for a little while longer." I told him.
"Okay, don't be too long though." I nodded to show that I heard him.
I walked until I found a rock and sat on it and cried for my grandma, for Preston, for the dogs, for Preston's family and finally for the horses whose freedom would soon be taken away.
I watched as the girl, named Charlie, apparently, cry in the field. I had overheard the conversation her father and her had, I couldn't help but feel my heart go out to her. She obviously cared about what would happen to the horses and cared about their freedom, you had to admire that.
I looked around the ranch yard and felt a pang of sadness for Trudy and Preston. Why did someone have to go and murder them? They did nothing wrong, Trudy was doing such a good thing with these mustangs and look what happens.
I watched the girl for a little while longer until Pepper told me it was time to leave. I followed him to the truck Pepper had driven Dallas and I over in. As we drove back to River Bend Ranch, I thought about Charlie and the mustangs. What would happen to them?
Later that night, in the bunkhouse. Charlie POV
I silently closed my laptop and thought about how to bring my plan up to Dad. I had researched a lot on the internet and had thought about a lot in the past couple of hours and decided, why couldn't I stay here in Nevada and run the ranch?
I wasn't going to college and didn't have any commitments back in Colorado, so why not stay and save the horses and the ranch?
Gabe came and sat down on my bunk. "You've been on that thing since we got back, what's going on?"
I let Gabe in on the plan and he grinned. "It's brilliant! I could ask my professors if I could do my homework on the portal for a couple of weeks and stay to help you out! Firefly is here with me, so why not?"
So we talked for a little while longer, adding to the plan before approaching our parents.
"You want to what?" Our parents asked in unison.
"I want to run the ranch." I told them both.
"But you're only eighteen! You can't handle that responsibility!" Aunt Ruth said.
"I can! I've researched it and thought about it really hard. I can take care of the horses, I already do the book keeping at home and I took business management courses during my senior year of high school." I reminded them.
They turned to Gabe. "What about Colorado State?"
"I've talked to my teachers and they're willing to put my classes and work on the portal for me until I come back home." Gabe said satisfied.
Our parents argued with us for about a half an hour before agreeing to it. On conditions. "First of all, Gabe you have two weeks to help, then back to college. Second, Charlie you have a trial period of a year and if you keep the ranch in good shape for a year then we won't sell it, but if it's failing, we sell. Third, I'm going to have the Forsters be your overseers for the year. They will be watching over you if I can get them to agree to it."
I nodded and Dad and Aunt Ruth left to speak to the Forsters. "Oh my God, Gabe. We did it!" I spun around in a circle with Gabe laughing. We were saving the horses!
I smiled the next morning as I packed my clothes. Gabe, Aunt Ruth and my dad would be returning to Colorado today, Gabe would pack my things and drive back here with all of it. I would take care of Firefly and all the horses while he did that. Plus we would all have to read Trudy's will. I wonder what she wanted done with the ranch?
And of course the weird part is I would have to go to grandma's ranch house. Which would scare the living crap out of me. I shuddered at the thought, at least Gabe would be there for a couple of weeks with me.
A little while later I drove everyone to the airport and then drove back to River Bend. As I ran inside to grab my bag and head to Deerpath Ranch, Grace stopped me.
"Charlotte(she used my real name)I just wanted to say that if you want to stay in the bunkhouse until Gabe gets back, that's fine with all of us." Grace said.
I smiled. "That'd be terrific, Grace. I don't really want to stay there without Gabe."
"No problem dear and we can spare one of our cowboys and the Ely's can spare some of their sons to help you out for a while if you'd like that."
"I'd like that. It's going to take me awhile to get into things and then I'm hoping somehow to hire someone to help out around there or find a volunteer to help me out." I told Grace.
Grace's eyes filled with tears. "I'm just so glad you're taking over, Charlotte. I would hate to see what would happen to the ranch and all the horses if you weren't."
"It's my pleasure, Grace. I couldn't stand to know that those horses were either put down or that they lost their freedom. It would just be terrible if that happened."
"Just like your grandmother." Grace pushed my hair behind my ears.
"Thank you." I whispered.
Grace gave me a hug. "Breakfast is about to be on the table. The cowboys are joining us for breakfast and you should too before you head over."
I followed Grace into the house where she told me to sit down next to Ross. "Morning." Ross greeted me quietly.
"Good morning." I smiled at him.
I studied Charlie as she ate her breakfast. She had light blonde hair with all different color highlights in her hair like blue, green, teal, purple, black and it was actually kind of cool. Just below the corner of her left eye, she had three little star tattoos, three little black outlined stars.
Her eyes were a brown color, like wood, with a ring of dark blue on the outside of her irises. She was definitely a pretty girl.
Wyatt had approached me this morning about going over with Pepper and helping her get into the routine with the horses and how to care for them. We would give her the farrier's number, Dr. Scott's number, Phil from Phil's feed and fill up number.
I heard Dallas clear his throat, meaning he was about to talk. "You know, Charlotte is it?, a ranch is a lot for an eighteen year old girl to run all by herself." Charlotte? I thought surprised to myself.
Charlie straightened in her chair. Charlotte must be her real name, I realized. "I prefer Charlie, thank you, and yes I know it's a lot but I think it's worth it to save the ranch and the horses."
Dallas nodded. "Do you have a job Charlie? An income? If you don't mind me asking."
Charlie froze. "No job. I have a trust fund my mother left me."
"How do you plan on keeping the ranch afloat?"
I felt a weird feeling to tell Dallas to mind his own business as I watched Charlie retreat into herself more. "I'm not quite sure of that right not besides using my trust fund. I guess I'll have to find a job."
Dallas nodded. Then Brynna spoke up. "The BLM is looking for an helper up at Willow Springs, some of the work is done in the office, some from home. Pays pretty good."
Charlie smiled. "Do you have to apply in person?"
"Yep. Come in tomorrow when we open and I can help you out." Brynna answered.
"Okay, thanks Brynna."
"Thank you. It would be nice to have some help up there."
The conversation turned to cattle prices and fall weather, thanks to Sam who saw Charlie needed a break.
There was something about Charlie that made me want to talk to her, get to know her. Dallas was half right, a ranch was a lot for a girl of just eighteen years old to take on. But then again, who was I to judge?
I sighed as I headed over to Deerpath ranch with Pepper and Ross. "Are you going to be staying in the ranch house?" Pepper asked hesitantly.
"Not until Gabe gets back." I answered.
"I imagine when I do, it will be scary and depressing." I told him truthfully.
"I imagine so, too." Pepper said.
"Has anything like what happened to grandma and Preston every happened before around here?"
"Never while I've been here. Ross?" Pepper turned to the silent cowboy in the back. I looked at him in the rear view mirror. He looked really big in my little car and I had to smile, in my head at least.
"Never." Ross shook his head.
"The cops think it had something to do with Preston's old job." I probably shouldn't be saying this but it was a small town, they would gossip anyways.
Pepper nodded. "Probably did. I can't just imagine someone just going in there and killing them for...nothing."
"There's a lot of people like that in the world." I laughed bitterly. "Murdering for no reason."
Everyone was silent til we got to Deerpath Ranch and then we all got out. I could see there were a couple of dark haired guys, I could see Sam's hair, and a blonde haired girl next to her.
"Who are all these people?" I asked Pepper.
"Well of course you know Sam, the blonde is Jennifer Kenworthy, she lives on Gold Dust the ranch next to ours and then there's Jake Ely, Quinn Ely, and Nate Ely. They live on Three Ponies Ranch on the other side of us." Pepper pointed out everyone and I remembered seeing them from the funeral.
"They're here to help out too?" I asked, wondering why all these people would just drop what they were doing to help me settle in, it amazed me.
Pepper nodded, then seeming to read my mind. "We're all about being neighborly out here, Trudy was a good neighbor for a long time and now we're gonna help you,her and the horses out."
My eyes filled with tears. "Thank you."
Pepper just patted my shoulder. As we came upon everyone, Sam introduced me. "Guys, this is Trudy's granddaughter, Charlotte, but she prefers Charlie."
"Thanks Sam." I smiled at her. "It's nice to meet you guys, I just wish it had been for a better reason. I want to personally thank you all for coming yesterday and for helping me out like you are. It's truly amazing how life already is out here."
I got a bunch of "Aw shucks, No problem." type of responses and smiled. I had the feeling even though Gabe would be gone in a couple of weeks, I wouldn't be alone.
"My dad and Brynna thought it would be beneficial if we would all ride out with you to check on the horses, just so you could know where you're going and to check on all the horses." Sam said.
"That's a good idea...I've only rode once before. And that was on Firefly while Gabe was training him."
"We'll put you up on Calico, she's a real nice mare." Jen said.
So I followed them to the corral where Grandma's horses were and they helped me saddle up Calico. I saw Pepper and Ross saddle up Ginger and Judge. The others had brought their own horses.
I swung up in the saddle on my own and grabbed my reins like Jake had shown me. I held them with my right hand and let my left hand rest on my leg like instructed.
We all started out on a slow walk into the mustangs pasture, we talked as we rode and checked horses&fence line and I learned everyone's age and about their school.
"So you won't be attending college, Charlie?" Nate asked politely.
"Probably not. I decided awhile ago the whole college thing probably wasn't me. I might take some more business classes for a while but nothing big." I answered Nate.
They all nodded. "College isn't for everyone." Quinn said.
"Some of us like this cowboy life." Pepper joked.
I looked at the horses and knew I had made the right decision to come here. It may not have been the range like they wanted but they were free and safe. If they needed care, I could get them it, they would get hay in the winter, everyone told me, because the grass would be gone.
"What are your winters like?" I asked them. Colorado wasn't the easiest state to be in during winter with the harsh winter temps and all the snow.
"They can be brutal." Sam said.
"And it can snow a lot." Nate spoke up.
"But for the most part, it's just cold with a little bit of snow." Jen finished.
I nodded. "And the horses will be alright during all of this?"
Sam nodded. "They do it out in the wild and they'll grow their winter coats so they won't be cold. As for shelter, they usually find it."
I looked around and saw no run-in shed like Firefly had, no barn. Maybe I could build a couple of run-in sheds before winter so they could get out of the cold/wind. I would talk to Gabe about it.
We rode for a little bit longer then turned back towards the barn. Ross was riding quietly beside me on Judge and I studied his face. It was a little rough, cowboyish, he had a couple days old beard, an average nose, medium sized gray eyes. He brown hair was a buzz cut under his cowboy hat. He had muscles, probably from all the physical work, and long legs.
I had to admit he was cute. He had to be in his late twenties, early thirties but that didn't make him any less cuter. I didn't see a ring on his left hand and figured maybe he wasn't the type for marriage or maybe he really loved his life at River Bend.
When we got back, Ross quietly told me how to un-tack Calico and since she wasn't that sweaty she just went back into the corral with the other two horses and Firefly. I would bring their feed out in a little while, in the mean time, with Ross's help I threw them some hay.
"I'm um, going to go up to the house to get something to drink, would you and Pepper like something?" Everyone else had left on horseback.
"That'd be great, but do you think you should go up there alone?" Ross asked, concerned.
"Yeah, I'll be fine." I waved off his concerns.
"Okay.." Ross said uncertainly.
I walked towards the large house and opened the black iron gate. I marched up to the door and opened it quickly. The first thing I noticed about the house was it was dark and quiet, kind of cold. I quietly shut the door and walked out to the kitchen.
I quickly grabbed three water bottles out of the fridge and left the kitchen. I stopped at the living room and saw my grandmother had been painting something before she died.
When I walked over to it, I realized it was two people. Gabe and I. It was from last Thanksgiving when Grandma has visited us in Colorado, I was still in high school and Gabe was just starting college. I swallowed the lump in my throat as I looked at the painting, we had been so happy then.
I heard creaking upstairs and froze, nobody could be in here. Nobody. I heard the creaking move and it sounded like it was coming towards the steps. I grabbed the waters and took off for the door.
Once I was outside, I didn't stop running. I only stopped once I reached Pepper and Ross, Ross looked me over suspiciously but Pepper just thanked me for the water.
After everyone had gotten a drink, we entered the barn where they showed me what to feed the three older horses than Firefly. We even made up a little chart for me so I'd know always what to feed the horses, then they showed me where most of the hay was stored and where the first aid kit was. They also gave me Dr. Scott's number and the farrier, Mike, number, they told me to call Dr. Scott if one of the horses seemed sick or was injured. Mike was already set up to come every eight weeks and do the three older horse's feet.
Trudy had it set up with Wyatt that she would buy hay off him so that was already set up and the horses should have enough to keep them for winter. Pepper informed me.
We made sure everyone was okay and content for the night before heading back to River Bend where I helped everyone with their chores and Dallas invited me to the bunkhouse for dinner, which I accepted.
"It won't be nothing like Grace's cooking but I do well enough to keep us alive." Dallas joked.
I smiled. "That's good enough for me."
So I sat down with the cowboys and we talked about Deerpath Ranch and the Sanctuary. The BLM was planning to ship more horses out to The Sanctuary but had postponed it after Trudy died. I would have to talk to Brynna and tell her to ship 'em on out, I could handle it.
I stayed with the cowboys for a little while longer before I said I was turning in. I walked over to the guest bunkhouse and took a quick shower, brushed my teeth and hair then got under the covers and turned out the light. I tried to keep the earlier events out of my mind as I fell asleep. I did not want to have nightmares tonight. I sighed and flipped onto my left side. After that it wasn't long before I was asleep.
A/N: Hi everyone! This is a new fanfic I thought of a while ago and I was up until 4am last night writing it because I was inspired. I know it's kind of sad because of Mrs. Allen&Preston but it was part of my storyline. What actually happened to them will probably come out later in the story. So in this story you meet a little more of Mrs. Allen's family, her granddaughter Charlotte, aka Charlie and she takes over the Sanctuary, saving the mustangs from death or loss of freedom. You'll get to see her struggle with being an "owner" of a ranch and the daily struggles of doing it alone, you'll see her investigating what happened to Trudy&Preston and maybe watch her find romance? Who knows!
Anyways, I want to hear if you want it continued, if you like what you read here, etc! I'll try to keep this story updated(if you want more) and I have ideas for where it could go. So please review!
Thanks for reading!