Chapter One

Sunday morning breakfast had been pleasant. Everyone except for Brian had sat down together and enjoyed a fine morning meal. Brian had left early Saturday morning to check the stock. Morning chores were taken care of now and the family had scattered about the ranch, each doing their own thing. Evan and Ford were out front with Guthrie, working on their little brothers' soccer skills. Daniel had retired to his bedroom, likely working on music. Hannah, Adam and Crane were sitting at the dining room table, having finished clearing the table and doing the dishes, she was thumbing through the Sunday paper and clipping coupons. Adam and Crane were once again looking through bills and figuring the books, hoping to find themselves in the black for the month. Crane let out a satisfied sigh, seeing their bottom line was finally looking a little better. There of course, was a host of medical bills piled in front of Adam, but in spite of knowing that they'd be possibly years paying it all off, the ranch was making money...finally.

"This feels good, doesn't it? I mean, we aren't in danger of getting rich anytime soon, but it's reassuring to be able to pay all the bills for the month, huh big brother?" Crane stated, directing his question at Adam.

"Yeah, I'll take it." Adam replied, not sounding too excited though. Adam always bore the extra weight for the family when it came to paying the bills. He had learned a long time ago that even when things appeared to be going smoothly, bad things tended to happen. That fact often tainted his mind and always kept him from getting too enthusiastic about their bottom line.

"I've found some pretty good deals in the paper. With these coupons, I think we'll be ok this month." Hannah said as she smiled, looking up from the paper.

About that same time, Brian entered the kitchen from the mudroom.

"Hey there stranger." Adam directed the comment to Brian.

"Hey yourself." Brian replied, sitting his cowboy hat down on the table as he walked past them, heading for the coffee pot.

"How's things looking up there?" Crane inquired.

"Not good." Brian replied as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

"Figured as much, things were going good there for about five minutes." Adam replied, resigning himself to hear the bad news...whatever it may be.

"We have a break in the fence, looks like we're down about thirty head." Brian replied.

"Where?" Crane asked, deliberately slamming his empty mug onto the table.

"Up near Table Mountain, near the edge of our property line where it meets with the National Forest." Brian replied grimly, taking a seat to Adam's right.

"Great. I guess it had to be there where all that thick brush grows." Adam sighed.

"You got it partner. We likely got a bunch of 'em tangled up in all that mess, too. We're gonna have to go gather them up right away." Brian said.

"Yeah, but I don't wanna take the boys out of school. You think the three of us along with Daniel can get the job done?" Adam asked.

"Oh, yeah. It might take a few days, though. We'd best pack up some camping gear." Brian answered.

Adam thought for a minute then got up and stepped toward the living room. "Hey Danny?" He called out, knowing the kid was upstairs.

"Yeah?" Daniel answered, stepping out of his room and looking downstairs over the banister.

"What's your plans this week, outside of the ranch?" Adam asked. He was trying to be considerate of his little brothers' hectic schedule. The kid had had a tough year and he and Adam had been on opposite sides of the fence a lot lately, when it came to ranch duties. Adam had resigned himself to the fact that Daniel was determined to pursue a career in the music industry. As much as the idea made Adam cringe, he had come to accept it and now was trying his best to be considerate of Daniel. He didn't want to argue with him right now. Besides, he was still a little puny. He'd been in the hospital more than once in the last year and his health was still a concern for Adam and the whole family for that matter.

"I have a gig at the Timber Tavern Friday and Saturday night this week, why?" Daniel asked.

"What about practice? That's Wednesday night, right?" Adam continued his line of questioning.

Crane couldn't help but smile. He could see that Adam was trying to consider their little brothers' feelings. He was for once, trying to meet the kid halfway, at least. Now Crane hoped that Daniel would catch that and behave in a similar manner toward's their eldest brother.

"Nah, we ain't practicing Wednesday. Coupla the guys have other things going all week." Daniel replied, descending the stairs and stepping into the living room.

"What's up?" He asked again.

Adam filled him in on the dilemna with the stock then continued his line of questioning.

"You feelin' up to going up for a few days and helping the three of us round them up and get that fence mended?" Adam asked.

"Yeah, no problem. Evan and Ford's not going?" Daniel questioned.

"Nah, I don't wanna take 'em outta school." Adam replied, studying his little brother. He didn't seem to hold any reservations towards the idea. Adam breathed a small sigh of relief.

"Ok, so we gonna go today?" Daniel questioned.

"Sooner the better." Brian offered.

"Yeah, I guess we'll get packed up. We should be able to get there before night fall if we leave by noon." Adam replied.

"Sounds good to me." Daniel replied, joining the rest of them in the kitchen, playfully tapping Crane on top of the head as he walked past him. Crane playfully swiped at the kids back but missed him as he walked by.

"I'll start making some sandwiches for the ride up and pack supplies for campfire cooking." Hannah offered.

"Thanks girl." Adam replied as he stepped over to his wife and gave her a big, enthusiastic hug. "Don't know what I'd do with out 'cha." He said softly.

"I'd prefer you not try to find out!" She replied, laughing.

to be continued...