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Vengeance Creek

By: April Hill
Published By: Blushing Press
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67,000 Words
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With the Civil War over for nearly twenty years, the country is expanding westward, and the open range, long thought to be endless, is disappearing. Leaving an abusive marriage, embittered, strong-willed Claire Maitland arrives in Montana, stubbornly determined to save the vestiges of her beloved grandfather's once-great cattle ranch. The property, along with many other small farms and ranches, has been swallowed up by avaricious rancher Linus Thacker, who has used every dishonest and criminal means to expand his control over the diminishing range.

By selling everything she owns and borrowing what she can, Claire manages to regain five hundred desolate acres of grazing land, a rundown house and fifty head of prime Hereford cattle. When Thacker's henchmen murder or frighten off her newly hired cowhands, she finds herself alone, with neither the expertise nor the ability with a gun it will take to protect her small ranch.

A lone man comes to her aid, in the person of Luke Campbell, another displaced rancher whom she knew as a child, years before she moved east and married the wealthy businessman who abused and eventually deserted her. Claire's first meeting with Luke after many years apart shows him to be a man with a strong hand and blunt manner - a man ready to tame her volatile temper - over his knee if necessary. Distrustful of all men, yet trying to make her way in a man's world, Claire is often unreasonable, harsh, and unforgiving. Although she finds Campbell's help welcome and his strength somehow appealing, she fears becoming the unwilling property of yet another domineering tyrant.

Through an escalating range war, they fight side by side against staggering odds, growing closer despite Claire's reluctance to relinquish any part of herself to another man. The barn she has lovingly built falls victim to arson, and Thacker's thugs attempt to divert her cattle's only source of water. When Luke is beaten and shot, Claire is driven by both love and foolish pride to confront her old enemy face-to-face - and finds her life in peril, as well.

CHAPTER ONE

Claire Parkins walked slowly through the spacious rooms of the once-grand old house, noting with sadness the glassless windows and the rotted floorboards that creaked and groaned beneath her step. Outside in the barren front yard, bright flowerbeds had once bloomed every spring. But now the ground was baked dry, dotted sparsely with dry clumps of brown weeds and strewn with splintered slit-wood shingles that had fallen from the sagging roof. The only remaining signs of the thriving vegetable garden she remembered from her childhood were shallow furrows in the parched clay. Yes, repairing the house was going to be a problem, but not the biggest problem. The biggest problem would still be Thacker, as it always had been. Claire slipped her hand in her pocket and touched the bank check again, comforted by the reality of it, but conscious of just how small it really was and how far it had to go.

Twenty years ago, when the house belonged to her grandfather, Noah Parkins, the Circle P ranch was the largest spread in the valley, and its elegant longhorn bulls were siring much of the quality beef in the territory. Claire was a small girl then, trailing behind the old man wherever he went and dreaming of the day when she would be a real rancher like the grandfather she adored. But that had been before the long years of drought came�years that brought financial ruin and made Grandpa old before his time. For Claire the saddest part was that Noah Parkins had died knowing that the spread he'd carved out of the wilderness and spent forty years building to greatness had crumbled into neglect. He'd lived just long enough to see the Circle P's vast herds sold off to strangers and its expansive lands auctioned off for pennies on the dollar. Most of it had gone to neighboring rancher Linus Thacker, of course, whose fortunes had soared as rapidly as her grandfather's had failed.

And that's why Claire had come back. Her dream was to rebuild not just the melancholy old house but the ranch itself�to reclaim it from the dust and make it great again. Maybe not as big as it had been in Grandpa's day�that would take more money than she had or ever would have, but as close to Grandpa's dream as she could. A place with the sturdiest breeding stock with the finest bloodlines�steers that would provide the beef a growing nation needed as its borders expanded westward. Beef to feed its children and its rail workers, and �.

She smiled to herself. Even her daydreams sounded like Grandpa's. Big words and bigger dreams, she thought, brushing off enough dust to sit down on the steps of her badly leaning porch. Unrealistic dreams, probably. Here she sat, an inexperienced woman, alone in the middle of hundreds of acres of empty grassland with only a ramshackle house and the bank's one-thousand-dollar loan check in her pocket. Grandpa would have made the effort, though, however impossible it seemed. Her father would have done it, too, if he hadn't died in the war. Now, with every last penny she had to her name tied up in a rundown ranch, Claire looked out across the barren plain and sighed. Her future looked a lot bleaker than it had three weeks ago, when she had left Chicago and a life of ease and comfort.

She'd been sitting on the hot porch for close to an hour when a lone horseman appeared on the top of the ridge and stopped, obviously watching her. Moments later, horse and rider came down the hill at a full gallop and skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust in what had once been the vegetable garden.

"There ain't no goddamned squatters allowed here, lady," he shouted. "You need to move along. Didn't you see them no trespassin' signs over there? The ones posted along the fence, yonder, and on the damn gate?"

"I tore them down," she said simply.

"Tore 'em down? Why the fuck would you do a fool thing like that?"

"Because the fence and the gate belong to me, along with this house and what's left of the porch I'm sitting on. And now that I think about it, mister whoever you are, you're trespassing on my front yard. And I'll thank you to move that horse of yours. He's standing right smack in the middle of my vegetable garden."

"The hell I will! You're fuckin' trespassin'!" he bellowed. "This here's Mr. Linus Thacker's place, all the ways past the creek and a damn far piece beyond that! Now, just get your ass movin, or...."

Claire stood up. "The county records will show that this property belongs to me, including that stretch of the creek," she said firmly. "If you or Linus Thacker or anyone else would care to see a copy of my grant deed, you're welcome to ride into town and look it up. Meanwhile, get your damned horse out of my turnips."

The man looked down at the bare dirt. "I don't see no fuckin' turnips."

Claire smiled. "You're not one of Mr. Linus Thacker's brightest hands, are you?"

Suddenly unsure of himself, the man backed his horse off a little. "Well, I reckon as how it'd be all right with Mr. Thacker if you was to just squat here for tonight, if you've a mind to�if you ain't got somewheres else to sleep. But if you know what's good for you, you'd best be gone come mornin'. Just get your tail outta' here by then and I won't tell nobody I seen you."

"You may tell anyone you wish, and please tell them my name, as well. It's Claire Parkins Maitland. My grandfather was Colonel Noah Parkins, and I fully intend to stay right where I am�in my house, on my land. Tell Mr. Thacker if he'd like to ride over and have a cup of coffee with me to discuss removing his illegally posted signs and boundary fences, I'll be here in the morning�and every morning from here on, until hell freezes over. Now, get your damned horse out of my string beans!"

The man grumbled and swore mightily but finally rode off, spurring his horse mercilessly up the hill. Claire knew it wouldn't be much longer before Linus Thacker or one of his henchmen paid her a visit.

As the afternoon wore on, Claire kept herself busy sweeping the years of accumulated debris from the interior of the house and into the yard, all the while keeping a cautious eye open for unwelcome company. She'd sleep here tonight, but go back into town tomorrow to buy what provisions she needed�and try to find out why the ranch hand she'd hired hadn't arrived. When she saw another rider approaching at some distance, she went inside and loaded the ancient rifle her father had carried at Appomattox Station. He'd died there on April 8, 1865, during General Custer's raid on the Confederate supply trains. Claire was two years old when the news came, and the only real memory she had of Daniel Parkins wasn't really a memory at all, but a photograph� a handsome face in a cracked and fading tintype left to her when her mother died. Carefully, she leaned the rifle just inside the doorway and sat on the crippled porch rocker to watch as the rider approached.

When he reached the fence�or what remained of it�the stranger leaned down from the saddle and opened the broken gate, then rode on through and up to the house. He was tall, lean and blond, and he looked vaguely familiar.

"Afternoon, ma'am," he said, touching the front brim of his hat. "Can I trouble you for some fresh water for my horse?"

She nodded to the cistern, which she'd filled that morning with buckets of water carried from the creek below the house. "The pump doesn't work. If that's not enough, you'll find plenty of water just down the slope, there." She pointed in the direction of the wide creek that flowed through the property thirty yards from the back porch.

"Thanks," he replied, patting the horse's damp neck as he dismounted. "I'll just walk him on down there and not use up what you've carried. That's mighty hot work on a day like this."

Claire got up and followed behind him as he walked down the hill to water his horse at the creek. The stranger was well-muscled, with broad shoulders and strong, calloused hands�a man accustomed to hard work. His hair was longer than fashionable and tied at the back of his neck with a strip of rawhide, but he was dressed in the familiar worn jeans and faded shirt favored by local cowhands. This stranger was no cowhand, though. There were no spurs on his boots and no coiled rope over his saddle horn. A Winchester rifle in a beaded leather case hung alongside his saddle, and he wore a holstered Colt .45 low on one hip.

He knelt on the creek bed to inspect the horse's feet. "This place has been deserted for quite a while," he observed, pointing back to the house. "It kinda' surprised me, finding someone living out here."

"I inherited it," Claire replied, watching his tanned, sun-lined face for a reaction. "The house, and several hundred acres around it, anyway. This creek's mine, too. What is it you wanted, here?"

He looked up at her and smiled. "Just the water, for now."

"Are you from around here?"

He stood up. "Nope, just passing through."

"And your business?"

"Well, now, ma'am, I figure that's pretty much my business, wouldn't you say?" he asked, loosening the horse's bit to clean it in the cool creek water.

When he'd finished watering the horse, the stranger filled three canteens, hung them over the pommel, then turned and started walking back to the house. She called after him. "Do you have a name?"

"I do."

"Well, what is it, then?" she asked irritably.

He stopped and turned around. "You always this polite to people you just met?"

"Do you want to work for me, or simply make idle conversation, Mister?"

"I hadn't planned on working here. Just passing through, like I said."

"Oh, I," she stammered, flustered by her error. "I thought you were one of the men I hired. Mr. Walker at the bank was supposed to be sending one of them over. That was three days ago, and I've been waiting...."

The stranger stopped walking. "Did this fella you hired have dark hair and a long scar on his cheek?"

"Yes, that's him. He said he'd been injured by a pitchfork last year. A Mister Jesus Hernandez. Do you know him?"

"You can stop waiting. Hernandez won't be coming."

"Why not? He told me he needed the job very bad."

"Not any more, he doesn't. I buried him last night." He pointed down the road. "About six, seven miles back, between here and town."

"Buried him!"

"Had to. Looked like he'd been dead about two days. Smelled that way, too."

"Dead!" Claire gasped. "But, how?"

"Could be he fell off his horse."

"That's ridiculous," she said irritably, annoyed by his mocking tone. "The man told me he was an experienced �."

He swung up into the saddle. "It wasn't the fall that killed him," he said. "Someone put a load of buckshot in his back."

Claire sank down on the porch step. "Thacker!"

The stranger looked at her curiously. "Linus Thacker? Runs the Silver Star?"

"Yes. Do you know him?"

He nodded. "I've heard the name. Tell me, is Linus Thacker in the habit of shooting your hired hands?"

Claire sighed. "Well, I can't prove it, of course, but...."

"Then maybe you should be more careful about accusing people of shooting other people."

"And maybe you ought to shut up and mind your own business!" Claire snapped.

He nodded calmly. "Always good advice, but I've heard it put more polite."

Claire looked him over again, noting the worn clothing. "What about you? You certainly look like you could use work. I'm prepared to pay well. Do you want the job or not?"

"Might be, but from what I've heard so far, it sounds like it might be a real short term position."

She sneered. "You're scared, then?"

"I've always found being scared at the right moment a pretty good a way to stay alive," he observed mildly.

"Ride on, then," Claire said coldly. "I'm not interested in paying good money to a whining, spineless coward."

He grinned. "Those are mighty unkind words. A fella could get his feelings hurt. And out here, a lady could get her rump paddled for less."

"Oh, really? A man could get himself fired, too."

"I don't recall hiring on," he said pleasantly. "And I figure you might not be the most agreeable lady to work for. I never could abide bad manners�or a lack of hospitality."

Claire pointed to the gate. "If you don't wish to work for me, you may leave the way you came in."

The stranger held up one hand. "Just simmer down a little. Before I risk my whining, spineless skin, I'd like to ask a couple of questions, if it's not too much bother. Such as, do you know anything at all about cattle?"

"No, I do not. But I intend to learn, and to make this place what it was when my Grandfather ran it."

At the mention of her grandfather, the stranger raised an eyebrow. "That's a mighty tall order. The Circle P was a big outfit."

"You knew it?"

Ho nodded toward the ridge. "I grew up about ten miles from here, over that hill there. My folks worked our place for twenty years, until we hit a string of dry years. When we got down to the bone, Thacker bought us out, same as he did just about everybody else around here. That's when Pa hired on with your granddad to keep us all from going hungry. The name's Campbell. I used to hang around this very house and pull the pigtails of some whiny little runt everyone called Stump." He grinned. "She had hair about the color of yours, come to think of it."

"You're Lucas?" Claire cried, recalling a lanky, blue-eyed boy with hair the color of straw and an astonishing way with horses.

"I go by Luke now. I'm guessing that would make you 'Stump'?"

"Claire," she said, flushing. "I finally got taller."

He leaned down to touch the top of her head. "Not a whole lot. You still wouldn't make a good-sized fence post."

She shook her head sadly. "I always wanted to be six feet tall, like Grandpa. I used to stomp around in a pair of his old boots, determined to grow up to be a tall cowhand and ride a tall horse like he did. I did my best, but it seems I take after my mother."

"Your Ma was a little bit of a thing, as I recall," Campbell remembered. "Had a helluva hot temper on her. I once heard her cuss out a drunk wrangler so bad he slunk under the porch like a gun-shy hound. Stayed there 'til he sobered up, figuring she'd take after him with an iron skillet, I guess. Your Grandpa always said she'd scare the pants off Linus Thacker himself if she'd had the chance."

"She died a few years ago," Claire said. "I miss her a lot. And Grandpa, too."

"He was a good man. Tough as nails, though. He gave me about the worst licking I ever had in my life one afternoon�right over the end of that porch rail there�for calling Abe Lincoln a stinking Yankee son-of-a-bitch. Damned near took the hide off my rear with that big Mexican leather belt he used to wear. Your Grandpa took his politics real serious."

She smiled. "He never raised a hand to me. Every time my mother threatened to spank me, he'd drag me off somewhere and deliver one of his awful, long lectures, instead."

"Maybe the old man should have let your Ma have her way with you," Campbell suggested. "A couple of real good paddlin's when they were called for might have improved your manners some."

"Well, Mr. Campbell," Claire said haughtily, "I can only repeat that if my manner offends you so deeply, and you don't want to stay here, the gate's right where you found it."

Campbell shook his head, and got down from his horse again. "You know, I think maybe I'll stick around a while. You're on the ornery side, but your Ma was a brave lady, and Colonel Parkins was as fine a gentleman as I ever met, and I figure the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. It's about time somebody gave Linus Thacker a run for his money, and you just might be just the little lady thorny enough to do it�with a little help."

"That's all very well," Claire said cautiously, "but are you capable of taking orders from a woman? I can assure you that I won't be the easiest person to work for, and I'll demand hard work and absolute loyalty. For that, I'll pay you top dollar, and you can sleep in the barn and take your meals in the kitchen."

He looked around. "Which barn might that be?"

Claire flushed. "Well, you'll have to build it, of course. We'll have to build it, I mean. In the meantime, I keep the wagon and my own horse in that broken-down springhouse in the back. You're free to do the same until we have the barn up."

Campbell scratched his head. "You know a lot about putting up barns?"

"No, Mr. Campbell, I do not. I intend to learn that, as well."

"So, what I'll be doing mostly, is teaching you how to run a ranch and put up a barn, is that about it?"

"We need a well, too," she said, annoyed at his persistence.

He sat down on the edge of the porch. "Okay. Let's see. Raise cattle, build barns and dig wells. I'm waiting for the rest."

"Well," she conceded. "There are several crates of chickens waiting in town to be picked up, and I don't know a great deal about growing vegetables, either."

"Chickens and vegetables," he repeated, nodding. "What about a few hollyhocks or some morning glories by your back stoop? Let me ask you something. You do know how to dress yourself and to read and write, don't you?"

Claire bristled. "I read and write in three languages, thank you."

"That ought to come in real handy," he said wearily. "You do anything else useful? Can you use a gun?"

"Will that be necessary?"

"Well, that's a damn fool question if I ever heard one. Do you think Linus Thacker's just going to sit on his hind end over there at the Silver Star and let you take this place back without a fight? Your man Hernandez didn't get dead from old age, you know."

"I'm sorry about Mr. Hernandez, of course, but even if Thacker was responsible, he may have meant it as just a warning."

Campbell swore. "Hell, Stump, you're even dumber than I thought. Of course it's a warning, and it may be the last one you get before he comes down on you like a...."

"Grandpa's pistols are in my suitcase, and I've got a shotgun and two rifles in the house," she said smugly.

"That's a start, but a couple of good hands would be handy, to go along with them. The barn can wait for now, and so can the well. Today we'll start with some empty bottles on that fence over there. Get inside and take off that idiot dress and put on some work pants. Nobody I ever knew ran a ranch in a red dress and a damned corset. How were you expecting to breathe out here in that contraption?"

He pulled the gun from his holster and handed it to her, barrel first.

She took the weapon from him carefully and tried pointing it in the approximate direction of the porch. "Don't start trying to give me orders, Lucas Campbell. I'm still the owner of this ranch, and I intend to be giving the orders, as well."

Campbell put both arms around her, positioned her hands properly on the gun and turned her back toward the yard. "I'd like to not shoot out any more windows, if it's all the same to you. It will start raining again some day. And as far as giving orders goes," he said, pointing to the farthest fence, "that'll be me, for the time being. When you can pick a lizard off that post down there at the far end of the yard or nail a jackrabbit for our dinner at the same distance, we'll talk about changing places. Meanwhile, I'll be making what decisions there are. If that doesn't suit you, try finding yourself another fella' dumb enough to stick around and get what brains he's got shot out. That's the deal. Take it or leave it."

"You can go straight to hell, you overbearing son-of-a-bitch," Claire said coldly. She hurled the gun at his head, wheeled and marched off toward the house.

As she strode by, Campbell took her arm and pulled her quickly backward, picked her up bodily and dumping her facedown over the porch railing. Already shocked into momentary silence at what was happening, she could only gasp in disbelief when he tossed up her skirt and petticoats to add a second indignity�two resounding, open-handed smacks across the seat of her drawers. The blows were swift, hard and purposeful and elicited an equally swift response from Claire.

"How dare you put your hands on me!" she screeched, throwing one hand back to in a belated effort at self-defense. "If you so much as touch me again, I swear I'll .�" When she turned her head to finish the threat, she saw that Campbell had picked up a long section of broken shingle from the step.

"It looks like we need to get a couple things straight here," he remarked, dusting the dirt clods from the shingle. "In the first place, if I ever catch you handling a loaded weapon like that again, I'll roast your damned rump 'til it's the color of that stupid dress you're wearing. In the second place, I don't take to being called names 'til I've earned 'em." Then, to Claire's horror, he pushed her further over the creaking porch rail until her feet swung off the ground. Suspended helplessly and in some danger of either sliding down the splintered railing or falling headfirst into her dead flowerbed, she grabbed the post at the bottom of the steps with both hands and clung to it until her arms began to ache. Humiliated and furious, Claire was more than willing to continue fighting, but in her precarious position it was obvious that escape was impossible.

She could still hurl insults at him, however, and she did�as many of her grandfather's colorful profanities as she could bring to mind while being spanked so hard she was close to losing her grip on the splintered post. And with every new insult, Lucas Campbell simply shook his head a bit sadly, took careful aim and landed another stinging whap with the shingle. After the first dozen whaps, Claire's resolve was beginning to crumble, while the shingle�considering its age�was holding up admirably. Finally, risking an ignominious drop into the flowerbed, she reached back with both hands and grabbed the back of her drawers.

"Keep those hands down," he warned. "Reach back there again and I'm gonna pull them drawers down and give you what you've really got coming�bare-assed." He reinforced the threat with a flurry of quick but agonizing swats across the soft under-curve of Claire's buttocks, just above her thighs.

"O-W-W! Oh, God! You can't do this!" she screamed. "If your don't let me up from here, I'll go to the sheriff and swear out a warrant, the minute I... O-O-W-W-W-W!!! Stop it, you goddamned son-of-a-bitch!"

"I'd watch my mouth if I were you," he advised. "It's that's sort of talk that got you over a porch rail with your rump on fire to begin with."

But Campbell's painful assault on what was probably the most sensitive part of her backside had reignited Claire's rage. Gritting her teeth, she kicked backward with both feet and all her remaining strength, aiming for his groin.

The kick missed. Campbell sighed. "You were always kind of a slow learner, Stump," he said. "Let's try three more and see if you smarten up."

As the raspy wood tore at the thin muslin of her drawers, Claire bucked and squirmed frantically�wasting what little remained of her strength and achieving nothing. But while the "three more" hurt, she had the odd feeling that they were being administered with a somewhat gentler hand�even a trace of reluctance. That perceived reluctance wasn't something she could prove, but it was � interesting.

"I'm hoping you'll be a bit more willing to see things my way after that," Campbell said, as he lifted her down and set her on her feet. "Unless you fire me off the place, instead." He chuckled. "Probably be just about the shortest job I ever had."

Claire kept her hands at her sides, resolutely determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing her rub her backside or cry.

"All right, Mr. Campbell," she said as caustically as she could manage. "You've proven to me that you can beat an unarmed woman half your size into submission, but that's not what you'll be hired for�if I choose to hire you. How well do you handle that fancy weapon you're so protective of?

Campbell drew the revolver from its holster, cocked it and blew a neat row of shingles off the roof of the distant outhouse, shattering the drowsy afternoon stillness in a savage explosion of acrid gunsmoke and flying sawdust. The sound of the shots echoed for a moment or two, and when the billowing dust settled, a final shingle slipped from the shed in the sudden hush, dropping with a soft plunk onto the sun baked clay.

Claire listened to the silence, waiting for her heart to stop pounding and the dust to clear before she spoke.

"You're hired, Mr. Campbell. Now, show me where to start digging our well."

"Nope," he replied. "Forget the well. That's my first order, by the way. And stop callin' me Mr. Campbell. We'll start by putting that gate back up and fixing what fence you've got left on the place. It won't stop a full-out attack, but it might slow down a stray rider or two. It'll depend on how they come at us. Tomorrow we'll go into town and see if we can hire a couple of fellas that Thacker hasn't already scared the pants off. How much money can you put your hands on? If this is a ranch, you're gonna' need cattle."

"I've got cattle," Claire said proudly. "Forty-eight of them, arriving next week at the railhead in Brewster. I bought them from a place called Swan Land and Cattle, in Wyoming. I was told that most of them were sired, or sprung, or whatever you call it, from a large reddish-brown bull named 'Anxious' or 'Anxiety'. Something like that, if I remember the name correctly."

"Anxiety 4?" he asked, in obvious amazement.

"Yes, that was what they called him. Is that good?"

Luke shook his head and chuckled. "Herefords don't come any better. How the blazes can you afford first rate stock like that?"

Claire sighed. "I sold everything I owned, which used to be quite a lot. I sold some railroad stock and a small house I had in Chicago. I sold my furniture, my jewelry, a closet full of dead animals I'd been wearing and wished I hadn't. And I'm afraid I sold my soul, as well. It didn't appear I was going to need it out here. I have exactly one thousand dollars left, which I borrowed using the cattle as collateral. If I don't succeed here, we'll have to eat Mr. Anxiety's beautiful offspring�the ones the bank doesn't take first."

"You'll make it, all right," he said. "Your pasture's good, and the best thing about Herefords is they mature early. With good forage they'll fatten up fast. With breeding stock like you've got, good water and any luck at all, you'll have yourself one hell of a herd in a few years."

"What about Thacker?"

"Old Linus is a whole different can of worms. That's why I want that barbed wire four feet high on the other side of the creek, as fast as we can get it up."

"Fences never stopped him before," Claire observed, "when he drove Grandpa out, and your family before that."

"True enough, but back then, you and I were nothing but scrawny little kids. We're bigger now, and meaner. If you're as tough as your Ma�and I've got a feeling you are..." He chuckled, pointing to the wobbling porch rail, "Linus Thacker will have all he can handle."

"Does that mean you'll be taking orders from me, after all?"

"Nope. It means you'll be falling out of bed every morning and working your pretty tail off until you've learned the ropes. And when you screw it up or don't listen, or just work a little too slow to suit me, or talk back, or cuss me out too often�you'll be getting your backside walloped 'til you can't sit down for supper. You've got no idea at all what you're biting off, Stump, but if I agree to risk my skin and stick around, and if you don't turn tail and run, you're going to end up being the best damned rancher around here�maybe as good as your Grandpa. Maybe even better, if I've got anything to say about it."

Claire sighed. "That's a lovely speech, but if Thacker chooses to, he can put a bullet in your back just as readily he did with Jesus Hernandez."

"Well, I'm harder to kill than most, but if that should happen, I'd be obliged if you'd bury me, say a couple of kind words over my corpse, and then get back to building that fence. If you give up on this place and let Thacker get his hands on Anxiety's kids and grandkids, I swear I'll come back from the grave, find me the stoutest switch between here and hell, and whale the tar out of you. If you and I can't beat Linus Thacker while I'm alive, you'll have to do it with me dead. You understand?"

Claire beamed. "I understand completely, Mr. � Luke, I mean. Now, I already have thirty rolls of barbed wire behind this house, a pile of fence posts as high as the house itself, and a stack of tools that I have absolutely no idea how to use. How do we go about stringing five hundred acres of barbed wire?"

Her grinned at her and nodded toward the house. "First, get out of that corset. The dress,

Denise on 04/25/2014 08:21am
This was a good story. Like all of the characters and how they played well with the plot. I have a feeling there will be a sequel, due to all things not be resolved. Would definitely read the next story if there is one.
Denise on 04/25/2014 08:21am
This was a good story. Like all of the characters and how they played well with the plot. I have a feeling there will be a sequel, due to all things not be resolved. Would definitely read the next story if there is one.
KArc on 01/27/2014 08:19pm
This was a good story about Claire who is trying to bring her grandfathers ranch back to life. She hires Luke to help out only to discover that he was her childhood friend. They clash over who will be in charge, Claire because it's her money or Luke because he knows what he is doing. They face the usual foe who is trying to buy all the surrounding land to add to his holdings. There were a few consistency problems but still an enjoyable story.
KArc on 01/27/2014 08:19pm
This was a good story about Claire who is trying to bring her grandfathers ranch back to life. She hires Luke to help out only to discover that he was her childhood friend. They clash over who will be in charge, Claire because it's her money or Luke because he knows what he is doing. They face the usual foe who is trying to buy all the surrounding land to add to his holdings. There were a few consistency problems but still an enjoyable story.
Connie on 01/26/2014 07:18pm
April Hill is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This book is a Western and Claire leaves her husband and comes back to her roots, takes over her grandfathers ranch to try to bring it back to life. It has the usual dominant cowboy who punishes her when she needs it , but keeps her safe. Great story with great characters.
Connie on 01/26/2014 07:18pm
April Hill is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This book is a Western and Claire leaves her husband and comes back to her roots, takes over her grandfathers ranch to try to bring it back to life. It has the usual dominant cowboy who punishes her when she needs it , but keeps her safe. Great story with great characters.
drb on 01/18/2014 06:06am
Great western. The story is very well written. It was easy to dislike Thacker and very enjoyable reading Luke and Claire's story.
drb on 01/18/2014 06:06am
Great western. The story is very well written. It was easy to dislike Thacker and very enjoyable reading Luke and Claire's story.
Laurel Lasky on 01/14/2014 08:57pm
I love April Hills books. Some are laugh out loud funny, this one not so funny but good story plot with cowboys, romance, danger and spanking. What more could you ask for?
Laurel Lasky on 01/14/2014 08:57pm
I love April Hills books. Some are laugh out loud funny, this one not so funny but good story plot with cowboys, romance, danger and spanking. What more could you ask for?
Tara on 12/28/2013 03:40pm
Again with the editing -- at one point the heroine's father died when she was two, at another he lived significantly longer. This story wasn't as funny as other April Hill stories I've read, but it was still a good read.
Tara on 12/28/2013 03:40pm
Again with the editing -- at one point the heroine's father died when she was two, at another he lived significantly longer. This story wasn't as funny as other April Hill stories I've read, but it was still a good read.
Artsy1 on 12/26/2013 06:31am
I really liked this story! Luke is a take charge kind of guy and decides to help Claire keep her ranch whether she wants his help or not. The characters were well developed and the story was smooth and well balanced. I liked the fact Claire was headstrong and determined to do things her way, but she was no match for Luke.
Artsy1 on 12/26/2013 06:31am
I really liked this story! Luke is a take charge kind of guy and decides to help Claire keep her ranch whether she wants his help or not. The characters were well developed and the story was smooth and well balanced. I liked the fact Claire was headstrong and determined to do things her way, but she was no match for Luke.

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