Chapter one

Brian McFadden had awoken a little worse for wear that morning. It was Saturday and he would like nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep. He had a bad head from his previous night out. He had really tied one on, but being part owner of a working cattle ranch didn't afford him the luxury of a day off. It wasn't a 9 to 5 job, nor was it five days a week. He had six brothers, one older, five younger, as well as a sister in law that all did their share of the work too.

It wasn't like the McFadden boys could afford hired help. Their ranch was struggling, it had been since the death of their parents ten years earlier. He and big brother Adam had been thrust into the position of parenting their five younger siblings as well as trying their best to hold onto their beloved ranch, Circle Bar 7.

One may think that being the second oldest would give Brian some clout, but all it really meant was that he was the number one flunkie. Adam made the decisions, though he did look to his brothers' Brian and Crane for guidance from time to time.

Today would be no different than any other day. Adam had already informed Brian that he had a tall order that he needed to be filled from the feed store in Murphys and he wanted Brian to pick it up. Brian had managed to convince Adam to let Daniel tag along, noting that the feed store would be shorthanded with Travis Meade laid up with a broken leg. Mr. Judd was a stingy man, so when his warehouse manager had fallen off his horse and broke his leg, he decided he wouldn't hire anyone temporarily to replace him. So Brian would have to load the feed himself and rationalized with Adam that he would need help.

He had other motivations for wanting little brother to tag along. He didn't feel like driving. He was hoping to catch a few winks in the passenger seat. Brian spent the previous night in Pony Joe's bar partying with friends. Daniel's band was playing there that night and the place was really packed out. He winced remembering that he left the bar in the company of a good looking woman. This wasn't out of character for him, but this particular woman was spoken for. She had been dating Rodney Parsons, one of Russ Wheeler's ranch hands, for about five months. Everybody in Murphys knew they were a couple, but she had gotten into an argument with him and had gone out to blow off some steam with her girlfriends and she had imbibed a little too much herself.

So, when Brian McFadden had begun flirting with her, she found him hard to resist. They left the bar around one that morning and he had accompanied her back to her place. Brian was feeling a tinge of guilt over it now, but last night, guilt or high morals were no where to be found. He was sure he would live to regret his indescretion, seeing as how everybody knew everybody in town and dozens of folks had seen them togehter...little brother included...so he had no doubt that sooner or later he would have a problem with Rodney. He hoped it would be later rather than sooner.

"Hey Brian, could you drop me off at the fairgrounds? I have bronc riding practice and Adam needs to keep the jeep today." Evan asked, running to catch up with his big brother.

"Sure, whatever. Where's Dan'l? We need to get a move on." Brian yelled back over his shoulder at Evan.

"I'm comin'." Daniel shouted, rushing out of the house, allowing the screen door of the mudroom to slam behind him.

"Ok Adam, we're out!" Daniel shouted towards the barn as Adam waved at the boys.

"Right, no goofing in town, alright? I need that feed as quick as you can get back here with it." Adam instructed.

"Yes Dad." Daniel said, grinning as he hopped over the front gate, heading for the truck, where Evan and Brian were already waiting.

"Don't call me Dad!" Adam grumbled after Daniel.

"Hey, you're lettin' me drive partner?" Daniel directed his question at Brian who was tossing him the keys.

"Why'd you think I wanted you to come with me in the first place?" Brian retorted, sliding into the passenger seat next to Evan, who was already occupying the middle of the seat.

Daniel started the engine of their old International pick up and tore off down the dirt driveway.

"Man, you should've seen big brother last night Evan!" Daniel said with a laugh.

"Hey, you watch yourself. I don't need you talkin' my business Dan'l." Brian groaned, raising his hand up from the backrest of the seat, slapping Daniel on the back of the head.

"Hey, watch it!" Daniel warned playfully. "It's not like it's Adam. 'Sides, you're Evan's hero. He wants to grow up to be just like you! Don't ya Evan?" Daniel said laughing.

"Yep! That's my goal in life." Evan said, chuckling out loud himself.

Brian couldn't help but smile and said, "I already told ya you're too ugly!"

All three brothers laughed and then Evan said. "Hey, I'm an hour early, so how 'bout I ride into town with you guys so I can help load the feed? Then you can drop me off at the fairgrounds on the way back."

"Suits me. The more help we got, the less work we gotta do ourselves." Daniel said.

They pulled up to the feed store and Daniel and Evan hopped out immediately. Brian stayed put. "Hey Dan'l. Go give Judd the order and sign the ticket, would ya? I'm gonna wait here til you guys get back and we'll pull around back to load up." Brian said.

"Yeah I see how it is. When Crane can't pay the bill at the end of the month, they'll come lookin' for ol' Daniel rather than Brian!" Daniel said, with mock distaste.

"Just go take care of it!" Brian snapped.

Just as the two younger McFadden's entered the feed store, one of Russ Wheeler's trucks pulled up in the parking lot next to their truck. Brian observed that Rodney Parson's was driving and three more of Wheeler's ranch hands were with him in the extended cap pickup.

Oh boy. Brian thought. Looks like it's reckoning time! He hunched down in his seat a little more, hoping to go unnoticed. Not that Brian McFadden had ever backed down from a fight. He liked to fight, in fact. But he wasn't feeling up to it just now, not to mention he didn't like four to one odds.

"McFadden! I wanna talk to you. Who do you think you are running 'round town with my girl!" Rodney spat, as he leaped out of the truck and started toward Brian.

"Sorry Rodney, I didn't see your label on the girl anywhere." Brian retorted. Smooth move Brian, be a smart ass why don't ya? He thought to himself.

Rodney was a big guy. He stood about six foot two and Brian figured he weighed about two hundred tweny pounds...give or take ten. Of course he would have with him the three ranch hands that worked for Wheeler that was as big as or bigger than him. David Simms stood as tall as Rodney and was likely only about ten pounds lighter. Jerry Watkins was bigger than them both. Six foot three inches and likely two hundred forty pounds, while Silas Marks was a little shorter, maybe six foot but he was two hundred pounds of nothing but lean muscle. Brian had actually played football with him in school and he was a bull, playing on both offensive and defensive line. This could get ugly. Brian thought to himself.

"You got a lotta nerve gettin' smart with me. I'm here to kick your ass!" Rodney yelled, seething. The guy was storming over to the truck occupied by Brian.

Brian cursed under his breath and started to haul himself out of the old International. His head was throbbing and he knew he was gonna get his ass kicked. Now, Brian wasn't sure how many of Wheelers hands it would actually take to kick his ass, but he knew how many they were gonna use!

As Brian climbed out of the truck Rodney grabbed the door and yanked it, effectively flinging Brian out and onto the ground. He immediately began to kick Brian in the ribs while Brian was doing all he could to get off the ground to swing on the big goon.

Daniel was waiting for Mr. Judd to tally up the bill so he could sign for their feed order when out of his peripheral vision he could see a commotion through the glass door of the feed store. It was Brian and Rodney facing off in the parking lot. But they weren't alone. There were several of Wheeler's boys standing around them in a semi-circle. Shit. I know what this is about! Daniel thought to himself.

"Evan! Brian needs help, now!" Daniel yelled, pointing towards the parking lot as he rushed for the door. Evan was in the first aisle of the feed store eyeing some supplies and was actually closer to the door than Daniel. He saw Daniel running toward's it, so he started for it at the same time, in effect beating his older brother to the parking lot.

Evan took in the sight that Daniel had just noticed and... being Evan, he immediately jumped in the middle of things just as Silas Marks grabbed a staggering Brian, who had just taken an effective upper cut from Rodney that had sent him back to the ground. Silas was about to take a swing at Brian. Evan ran up behind Silas and grabbed the much bigger man's arm and yanked him away from Brian. Evan swung and caught Silas under his left eye, sending him to the ground with a hard thud.

Daniel was right on Evan's heels, but he hesitated a few seconds to take in the situation. He wasn't quite as quick to fight as Brian and Evan and while he knew he was going to jump in it, he opted to first work out some sort of strategy.

Daniel and Evan each stood about five foot nine and that was with their boots on and each teen weighed about one hundred sixty pounds and that was if they were soaking wet. Daniel realized quickly that with Evan involving himself in the fight that Jerry and David were about to jump in too. He saw Jerry make a move towards Evan and quickly made his decision. Daniel jumped up into the bed of their truck and then launched himself off the passenger side onto Jerry Watkins, bringing him to ground.

Daniel began to work the big man over with everything he had in him. His older brothers had passed on the addage from their father, it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of fight in the dog. Daniel was hoping that he and Evan's youth would make up for what they lacked in size.

The fight continued, with Brian having to not only fend off Rodney, but David now as well. Brian was getting worked over pretty good, but he was aware that at least at the moment, Evan had been shoved against the side of Wheeler's pick up and was being worked over by Silas. He couldn't see Daniel but he could hear him and knew he was in the fight too, which meant he was fighting off Jerry Watkins, the man everyone around those parts called "The Mountain." Brian tried to fight off David and Rodney so that he could at least get to Evan, but they were both swinging on him and effectively delivering blows to both his face and torso.

Daniel managed to get two good punches to Jerry's face and a solid lick to his ribs, but the guy was barely fazed and began to swing away, hitting Daniel twice in the face before landing two solid punches in his stomach, causing the younger man to fall to the ground. He then kicked the boy hard in the ribs with the pointed toe of his cowboy boot before picking him up and hurling him through the air, Daniel landing with a thud against the McFadden's International. Brian was still holding his own pretty well, considering it was two on one. He was effectively defending himself against his attackers, despite the odds, but he was concerned about his little brothers, but he was unable to fight himself free to give either of them a hand.

Mr. Judd had seen the boys take off to the parking lot and with one quick glance at the fight, he was on the phone to the sheriff. The sheriff's office was only a couple of blocks down the street and the old man heard the sirens within a minute of making the call. He ran outside and began yelling at the men who were fighting to stop and that the sheriff was on the way.

David backed off, not wanting to be caught in an unfair fight, but the other six men continued fighting. The sheriff and two other deputies responded to the call and immediately jumped in and broke up the fight.

Sheriff Sykes had broken up Brian and Rodney. Murphys being such a small town, he had already heard the rumors and immediately knew what the fight was about and likely who had started it.

"Alright boys, that's enough. Stop or I'm gonna arrest every one of ya!" Sykes yelled.

One deputy had pulled a flailing Evan off of Silas while the second had hauled Jerry off of Daniel.

"What's this all about?" The sheriff asked, even though he knew the answer.

None of the men were talking. They all looked pretty worse for wear, the sheriff observed and it looked as though most of the fight was gone out of all of them.

"You two, come with me." Sykes said, motioning to Brian and Silas.

"Do you realize how stupid this is? Fighting over a woman in the middle of town? I ought to put you both under my jail!" Sykes ordered both of them to lay over the hood of his patrol car and ordered one of his deputies to handcuff them.

Then, the other deputy called out to the sheriff. "Hey, I think a couple of them are hurt. We may need the paramedics."

Ed Sykes walked over to inspect the rest of the carnage. He might have known. Two of Brian's younger brothers had gotten worked over pretty good by Russ Wheelers ranch hands. He figured they had jumped in to defend their big brother.

"Hey, you guys ok?" He knelt down first to check Evan over. Evan was rolling around in the dirt, trying to get up, but was struggling.

"Take it easy Evan. Where are you hurt? the Sheriff asked.

"I'm alright. Just took some shots to my ribs." Evan replied.

The sheriff inspected the boy. Both eyes were swelling, one in fact was already swelling shut, while he was clutching his ribs.

"You think you need an ambulance boy? the Sheriff questioned.

"Nah, I'll be alright." Evan replied.

He then walked over to check on Daniel, who was laying on the ground in front of the McFadden's truck. He was bleeding from his mouth, both sets of knuckles busted and bleeding and he had a nasty cut under his left eye. He looked like he was having trouble getting his breath.

"Daniel? How bad you hurt?" Sheriff Sykes asked, glancing up towards "The Mountain" giving him a quick look of disgust. This guy's got no business beating up on a kid! He thought to himself. He bent down to check Daniel over and figured immediately that the kid had some cracked ribs, at the very least.

"Take it easy boy. Slow your breathing. Where does it hurt?" Sheriff Sykes questioned the boy.

"I'm good, just give me a minute." Daniel said, panting. Sykes recognized teenage bravado when he heard it, however.

"Call the ambulance." The sheriff ordered.

"No, no way. I'll be ok. Just give me a minute." Daniel pleaded again, trying to haul himself off the ground.

"Just stay still, son" The sheriff continued. "I need to at least call Adam."

"No please, don't call Adam. You'll scare him to death. It's just a fight Ed." Daniel answered, still sounding out of breath.

"You outta be ashamed of yourself Jerry. Big as you are, picking on a kid his size. You could've killed him!" Sykes said in disgust.

The sheriff decided to call an ambulance, despite their protests. He also instructed one of the deputies to call Adam. He was legal guardian of these boys - at least, Evan still, as Daniel was eighteen now.

Once uncuffed, Brian checked over his little brothers. He was furious all over again when he saw what had been done to them. Those men had no business jumping into a fight between he and Rodney in the first place. On top of that, they were all between Brian's and Adam's age and way bigger than Evan and Daniel. Brian wanted to kill Jerry and Silas for beating up his little brothers...his boys!

Mr. Judd didn't press charges, since no damage was done to his property and none of the men, the McFadden's included, requested to press charges on each other, so Ed Sykes released them all after questioning them but explained that he was still investigating the incident and if warranted, arrests could come later.

When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics loaded both Evan and Daniel into it and checked Brian over at the scene. He refused treatment but insisted on riding to the hospital with his brothers. A request that was denied, being that they were transporting two patients in one ambulance, there was no room for another passenger.

Sheriff Sykes offered to take Brian in his cruiser, but Brian declined his offer, saying he'd drive himself there. Truth was Brian was sore at Sykes for calling Adam. He had protested, saying that no one needed to call Adam, as he was present and also responsible for them. Ed Sykes explained to Brian that with Adam being Evan's legal guardian, it was his duty to inform him, in case Adam wanted to press charges.

Adam had told Ed that he would meet them at the hospital and Ed passed that information along to Brian. Brian winced at the thought of having to face Adam, not to mention Hannah, once they reached the hospital. He jumped in the pickup and raced off to the county hospital.

to be continued...