Pearl stepped out into the bright sun, a full laundry basket propped on one hip and a tall glass of lemonade in her hand. She maneuvered as best she could to close the door behind her before the screen door shut. Using her elbow to loosely grab the doorknob, she kept her lemonade held high and grunted when she almost lost the laundry basket.
She looked over her shoulder at the sky and decided quickly that the door could just stay open. The screen would prevent any insects or animals from coming inside anyway.
Giving up on the door, Pearl crossed the long front porch of the Langston Mansion, her family home. As she descended the porch steps, she noticed how warm it was. She lifted her chin and let the breeze slide over her smooth cheeks. Once she reached the bottom, she stopped and said a quick prayer of thanks.
God, it is a beautiful day, she prayed. Thank you for this blessing. My laundry is going to dry real fast. Amen.
Pearl grinned. She was helping out Hester, the woman who had helped her father raise Pearl and her siblings since the death of their mother. Hester was her father’s second cousin; a spinster who was completely devoted to the Langston family, spending all of her energy to make sure they were well taken care of.
Hester didn’t have to worry about Pearl and her brother and sister being well taken care of, though. Pearl’s father gave his children everything and anything he could to make them happy.
Despite his obvious devotion, Pearl’s older brother, Hart, had been overcome with deep depression after their mother’s death when he was twelve. It had been nine years and he was still affected by it. Over the last four years, he had become a heavy gambler. Their father had bailed him out of tight situations so many times that Pearl had lost count.
Despite his gambling addiction, Hart was able to handle part of the business dealings that went along with running the ranch. Eventually, their father would retire and the ranch would go to his son to take care of. Hart kept that in mind but it didn’t dissuade him from gambling away all the profit he made from his deals.
Pearl’s thoughts turned to the memories she had of her mother. She was ten when she died. She remembered the last thing she’d said to her. Thankfully, it was, “I love you, Ma. See you tonight.”
Hart hadn’t been that lucky. He’d been acting up all day and his mother was very aggravated with him. Pearl didn’t know his last words to her but she knew they’d been arguing so she assumed his memories of that day were much worse than hers.
Before her death, their mother was the one all three children could rely on. She taught them everything she knew about being a productive human being. She was loving and attentive, giving out regular “breakfast, lunch and dinner hugs”, which she’d made into a ritual. After every meal, the children couldn’t leave the table without giving both parents a hug and receiving a hug and kiss from their mother. Pa usually just gave them a nice pat on the back while they hugged him.
When she died, their father tried to continue the ritual. But the loss rocked the entire family and he lost a lot of the zest for life Pearl had seen in him. It was sad to see. She missed the way her father used to wrestle with Hart, attend regular tea parties with Suzie, Pearl’s little sister, and take Pearl on long horseback rides through the Montana mountains.
As Pearl hung the laundry on the line to dry, she hummed a tune she remembered from her childhood. Her mother sang it to the children before she tucked them in bed. Her eyes became misty and she held in her tears. Her humming became erratic as her throat constricted. She cleared it and tried again.
I miss you, Ma, she thought, lowering her arms from the clothes line and letting them hang at her sides. She looked up at the sky, picturing her mother as an angel. She studied the clouds drifting through the blue, imagining she could see heaven from where she was. It must be so beautiful there. It was even more beautiful with her mother amidst the angels.
Her father did the best he could to continue raising his children with love and got his second cousin to stay with them as a cook, housekeeper and nanny when Pearl and her siblings were young. Suzie was a 12 year old going on 30; a determined, courageous girl who played rough and tumble games with the boys at the schoolhouse, telling everyone she wanted to be a cowgirl when she grew up. Hester didn’t like that. She believed Suzie should be a lady but admitted the girl had a long way to go before she could be considered one.
Hester was sometimes hard on Suzie and Pearl but they had no doubt she cared deeply for them. Pearl’s interest in running the ranch business also bothered Hester. The girls needed to finish school, as far as she was concerned.
Pearl leaned to the side to look around the long sheet she had just hung up on the line. Hester was calling her from the front porch.
“Breakfast, dear. Come on in and eat.”
“Thank you, Hester!” Pearl looked down the line she had just hung up. There were only two garments left – both pillowcases – and she quickly put them up on the line. She pushed the memory of her mother back down in her heart, where it would stay until the next time.
Feeling weighed down with emotions, Pearl picked up the empty wicker basket and went inside to eat breakfast with her family.
Everyone was already around the breakfast table when she got there. Smiles all around were her greetings. Suzie was already halfway through her breakfast and grinned at her sister with a closed and obviously full mouth. Her father, Lowell, and Hart both looked aggravated but both managed a half-hearted smile. Something had happened last night that she didn’t know about.
She sighed, pulling out her chair and sliding into it.
“So,” she said, her eyes on her father. “What’s happened?”
“Pa’s upset,” Hart explained, “because a fence broke last night and a good fifty of our head of cattle roamed off onto the Dillon land.”
As soon as he mentioned the Dillon ranch, which was directly next to them, Pearl tensed up. The long feud between the two families seemed never-ending. Tobias and Ilene Dillon had successfully built up their ranch to make a fine profit over the last few years and the money hadn’t helped their attitude. Their son, Tom, was just as arrogant and rude, proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She couldn’t help thinking when she saw him that he was not very smart. He seemed a little slow on the uptake.
Pearl didn’t like to deal with them. Especially Irene, whose personality clashed with Pearl’s.
She braced herself for what she knew her brother would say next.
“They don’t want to give them back, right?” she asked, moving her eyes from her father to her brother. They both nodded.
“That’s right, sis,” Hart said, his voice hard with anger. “I’ve a mind to go over there and teach them a lesson about stealing but Pa says that wouldn’t be helpful. So I guess I’m just going to sit here and let them take our cattle.” His eyes narrowed and he slid them to his father.
Pearl pulled in a deep breath, letting it out slowly through her nose. She leaned forward to serve herself some eggs, two biscuits, and two slices of ham. She looked down at the food, wishing she hadn’t heard the news before she started eating. Now she’d lost her appetite.
“Pa is right, Hart. It wouldn’t help at all.”
Hart swept a biscuit over his plate, catching the yolk from the egg, his brow furrowed with irritation. “I know that.” His voice was still hard. “But that don’t mean I don’t wanna go do it.”
Pearl nodded. “I understand the feeling.” She forced herself to take a bite from one of the biscuits and followed it up with some eggs, her appetite growing with every chew.
“Pa, we can’t just let them get away with it. Those cattle are our property. They have no right to them. I don’t think it’s wise to fix the fence until we drive them back onto our land. Tobias may be an unreasonable man but surely he’s not a thief. He must know he can’t keep them just because they wandered through a broken fence. We have to do something. Those cows are worth a lot of money. Tobias knows that.”
“I’m sure that’s why he’s not sending them back,” Pearl murmured. “They weren’t always wealthy like us. All three of them know the price of one head of cattle and ours are strong and healthy.” She stopped eating and looked at her father. “Do you have a plan?”
Her father was brooding, having sat back in his chair and steepled his hands in front of his mouth. He tapped his fingers together as he thought.
“Those cattle were supposed to be branded today, Pa. We have to get them before the Dillons mark them as their own. Surely Tobias knows what it will do to our family if he brands them himself. I’ll go after him. I’ll get a lawyer and sue him.”
Chills covered Pearl’s arms. “Wait, are you saying those cattle are unmarked?”
The men looked at her. “They aren’t marked, Pearl,” her brother responded. “Didn’t I just say that?” Pearl forgave his rudeness, knowing he was angry but not at her. Hart returned his gaze to his father. “Listen, Pa, I’ve dealt with Tobias and Tom for the last couple years so you wouldn’t have to. I can’t let this slide now. We have to reason with him. Otherwise, I’ll have to pull out all stops to get those cattle back. He can’t be allowed to keep them.”
“It’s not going to be easy for him to find all fifty by himself,” Pearl said. “And who is to say more cattle don’t go roaming through that broken fence? Is anyone guarding it?”
Hart nodded and answered, “Yeah, Bobby and Cal are guarding it. But that pasture was only being used for the unmarked scheduled for branding today.”
“I think we better not put unmarked cattle in that pasture anymore,” Pearl murmured, hoping her suggestion didn’t rub either of the men the wrong way. To her surprise, Hart agreed.
“She’s right, Pa. We can’t let this happen again. But as for now, we have to figure out a way to get them back here.”
“I suppose I could go talk to them,” Pearl volunteered, her heart thumping in her chest. It was the anticipation that had her wound up. Her father could refuse to give her permission but she would still go. It didn’t matter one way or another because it was likely the Dillon family wouldn’t even see her, much less with her accusations in hand.
“I don’t know if that will do any good.” Her father was looking over his fingers at her with the signature Langston blue eyes, a color that each child had gotten much to their mother’s delight. “You aren’t exactly on better terms with any of them than Hart or I.”
Pearl shook her head, already planning what she wanted to say. “Maybe not, but I’m the best one for this task. Think about it. You really don’t want to send Hart, do you? He’s already told you how he feels about this. He wouldn’t be able to keep from blowing his stack. And you… I doubt any of them will talk calmly to you about it. You might just take a swing at Tobias. You might not be able to hold back your temper.”
Her father stared down at the table in front of him as if he’d never seen it before. Pearl decided she’d said enough and shoved several forkfuls of food in her mouth while she let him think. She hoped he was leaning in the right direction. Sending Hart or going himself would be foolish. They’d lose all fifty cattle. Even if Tobias agreed to give the cattle back, they would still have to be searched for among the cows the Dillons legitimately owned. That would take some time. The more time it took, the less likely Hart or her father would keep their tempers.
They’d had incidents in the past where they were sabotaged in one way or another and it always came down to Tom and Tobias doing it. It wasn’t just an accusation; it was fact. But Pearl couldn’t recall ever having to go there to discuss something this serious. How could the Dillons expect to get away with it this time?
“Pa, we have to do something,” Hart repeated himself, giving his father a stern look. “Either I’m going over there or she is.” He flipped his eyes to Pearl and back to Lowell. “And if I go over there, we might have a problem. Tom is arrogant and bullish. We’re going to butt heads. Make a choice.”
Pearl was not surprised to hear her brother’s demanding words to her father. He had little patience. He’d always been that way. It was probably one of the reasons he wasn’t a successful gambler. She’d never sat in on a game so she didn’t know his skill level, but the amount of times he’d lost seemed to indicate he wasn’t very good at it.
“You can take care of it, Pearl,” her father said finally, sitting forward, hanging his head and frowning. “I want those cattle back and if you can’t convince them to give them back willingly, me and Hart are going over there and we’ll get them ourselves. I’ll take a couple hands and we’ll round them up. If he gets the sheriff involved…”
“He wouldn’t dare,” Hart interrupted. “He’s stolen fifty head of cattle. Let him send for the sheriff. By the time he gets there, we’ll have our cattle one way or another. Whatever it takes.”
Hart’s words struck fear in Pearl’s heart. Her brother could go to the gallows because of fifty head of cattle.
“No, I’ll go,” she said quickly. “I’ll head over there in about an hour. That’s not long enough for them to even think about branding those cattle. How do you know they won’t just give them back? Have you already been to see them this morning?”
“Bobby was the first one to spot the broken fence and the missing cattle,” her father replied. “He went directly on the property and looked for them.”
“Does he really remember what fifty cattle look like? Each one?” Pearl asked, surprise in her voice.
Both her father and brother looked at her like she’d lost her mind.
“Of course not. The Dillons have a distinctive brand and don’t have any new ones. All our cattle are unmarked. That’s what Bobby was looking for. He saw about a dozen and assumed the rest were with them.”
“And he went to the house and talked to them? It must have been really early.”
Her father sighed, sitting back again, throwing the napkin he’d been clutching in one hand on the plate in front of him. “He met up with one of the Dillons’ ranch hands and explained what happened. The hand went with him to the main house. He’s the one who talked to Tobias. He came back out and told Bobby that Tobias said we should get our fence fixed.”
Pearl waited a few seconds for her father to continue. When he didn’t, she frowned. “That’s all he said?”
“That’s all he said,” her father confirmed.
“Not whether or not he’d send them back over.” She shook her head, disgusted by the man’s behavior. “Maybe the hand didn’t want to give them back and told Tobias the cattle aren’t ours or something. Maybe…”
“Why are you making excuses for Tobias Dillon?” Hart asked, gruffly. “He’s never done anything good for this family. He and that son of his have been sabotaging us for years. They don’t deserve your excuses.”
Pearl shook her head. “It’s just that I don’t think the Dillons are thieves. It surprises me that he would act that way. He knows he can’t get away with suddenly having fifty more cattle while we stand at a loss of the same amount. There is such a thing as a court of law. I know who to talk to. Surely you do too, Pa.”
Her father’s demeanor didn’t change. He grumbled out a “yeah” but said nothing more.
“I know you both are real angry about this,” she said. “But I have a level head and can handle whatever insults they throw my way. Not that either of you can’t. I just won’t react the same way as you would.”
“I’ll punch that man’s teeth down his throat,” Hart said, his voice cold as ice.
Pearl looked at him. “I know you would. That’s why I have to go.”
“Can I come with you?” Pearl looked at her little sister. She’d almost forgotten Suzie was there. Typically her little sister was loud. Today, she was quiet as a mouse.
“No, Suzie. This is something that grown-ups need to handle.”
Suzie nodded, looking like she didn’t care all that much anyway. The girl looked at her father. “May I be excused, Poppa? Hester says I have to work in the garden today and I want to rest before that.”
“Yes, my dear.”
Pearl watched her sister leave, wondering how a twelve-year-old could ever need rest, especially at seven in the morning.
Half an hour passed before Pearl was ready to go. She stood at the window in her room, looking out over the land. From her vantage point, she could see for miles. The green hills that rolled like solid waves toward the mountains in the distance. It was going to be a hot day, she could already tell.
She reconsidered the dress she’d put on. She wanted to be as modest as possible to give off the impression she had more respect for the Dillons than she actually did. She pictured Tom in her mind. He was handsome, though he would have been stunning if he didn’t constantly sport a furrowed brow and guarded expression. Tall, easily six feet, she assumed, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. Slender but made of muscle he’d worked into shape as he grew up, working hard on the farm. She had to respect him for that, at least. He’d dedicated the last few years to building up his father’s farm and bringing in money for his parents and himself. He was an only child and a son, so his determination was indeed impressive.
Added to his excellent work ethic was his obvious intelligence and fortitude. If he wasn’t so arrogant, he’d be quite a man.
But Pearl couldn’t get past how the new wealth of the family seemed to blow up their egos a little too much. Pearl was born into a wealthy family and didn’t know what it was like to go without. But that didn’t make her arrogant and prideful. While she was proud of her family name and history, she tried hard not to put on airs. She wanted to use her brain to help her family continue to prosper. She wasn’t the type of woman, like Irene Dillon, who made sure everyone who saw her knew she was wealthy by her stylish clothes, jewelry and make-up.
From her window, Pearl could also see onto the Dillon property. She could see the cattle wandering in the pasture and the Dillon ranch hands keeping watch. There were two on horseback side by side, facing toward the herd, just watching. She wondered if they were friendly men, like the ones her father and Hart hired. Regardless the Dillons were the enemy, not the men they hired.
She turned away from the window, denying that her nerves were on edge and her heart pounding in anticipation of what she might find at the neighboring ranch. She didn’t welcome confrontation but it was definitely safer for her to do it than for her brother to. Or her father. She would keep a level head on her shoulders. She’d point out how dishonest it would be for Tobias to hold on to property that wasn’t his to have. He hadn’t paid for and taken care of the Langston cattle, feeding them and keeping them in good shape for their meat and milk.
Voices in the hallway got her attention. She turned to look at her closed door, hearing Suzie pass by complaining about something. She didn’t quite make out the words but it sounded like her little sister was very upset.
Pearl sat on the edge of her bed and leaned down to pull on her boots. They were tall brown boots with no laces, so all she had to do was slide her foot in and pull the boot up. It came almost up to her knee. She pulled the other one on and stood up, smoothing her dress with both hands.
Pulling in a breath of courage, she walked out the door to her bedroom and went to the stairs. She looked down when she got to the top of the stairs to see Suzie and Hester standing at the bottom, facing each other.
Suzie looked quite upset.
“Hey you two,” she said, interrupting their argumentative words as she went down the steps. She slid her hand along the railing as she descended, though she had no fear of falling. She was not a clumsy woman by any means. “What’s going on? Suzie, why are you upset?”
Suzie and Hester turned frowning faces up to Pearl.
“You should counsel your sister on proper behavior, Pearl. I have tried and tried to teach her but she is simply never going to be a lady.” Hester crossed her arms in front of her ample bosom and gave the 12-year-old an angry glare.
Pearl looked at Suzie. “What did you do?”
Suzie’s frown deepened. “Why does it have to be something I did? Maybe Hester has the problem and not me.”
Pearl shook her head, vigorously. “Suzie! That’s rude. You know you are supposed to respect your elders.”
Suzie sneered, contorting her pretty face into one almost unrecognizable. “Respect is given where it’s earned. That’s what Poppa always says, doesn’t he? So if I’m not being respected, I am required to show it anyway?” Suzie rolled her blue eyes. “I’m not going to do that.”
Pearl was grateful for the distraction from what she was about to do, even if that distraction was particularly negative.
“First off, Suzie, you don’t get to pick and choose when you’re still a child. There are a lot of things adults understand and know that you don’t. You can’t make wise decisions without talking first to someone who has already been there. That would be an adult. There are some things I know that you don’t know but there are things Hester knows that I don’t know. The only way I will learn is by listening to others who are older and wiser than me.”
Suzie huffed. “That doesn’t count in this instance,” she said. Pearl was always astounded by Suzie’s level of intelligence. She was a quick learner and usually didn’t mind being taught something.
Pearl turned her eyes to Hester. “What is this all about anyway?”
“She insists on climbing those trees and running amok whenever we spend time outside. She must learn to be a lady.”
Pearl regretted scolding Suzie when she found out what Hester was upset about. She pulled in a deep breath and let it out through her nose, pressing her lips together. “Hester.” Pearl shook her head, giving Suzie an apologetic look. “You know she is going to climb trees and run and play rough. She’s always been that way. Poppa takes her to the shooting range and hunting and all those things Hart doesn’t have time to do anymore. She likes those things, Hester. You can’t deny her happiness because it doesn’t suit you.”
Pearl looked back at Suzie. “And you; what I said still remains true. Hester is only trying to look out for you. I know how both of you are. You’re both stubborn. It must be a family trait because we all are in this family, aren’t we?”
She could see a little amusement cross Hester’s face but Suzie still looked sullen and cross.
“Hester, while Suzie is still young, I think we need to give her the freedom to be herself. I don’t think it’s wise to suppress her energetic nature. Maybe she will grow out of this phase and be a lady when she’s my age. Until then, she is free to climb trees. But you shouldn’t disrespect Hester, either.” Pearl moved her eyes between them both, noticing when Suzie looked like she was about to give in an apologize. This wasn’t the first time she’d had to interfere between the two of them.
Hester was by the book, her large frame somewhat intimidating when she decided to let her thoughts be known. She wanted everything precise, clean, on time and accurate. Anything less was a problem for her.
Unfortunately, Suzie was rarely clean or on time and her version of accurate and precise was not the same as Hester’s.
“Can we both agree to just get along and be happy? Have some fun and laugh a little? Come on, you know neither of you want to continue arguing. It just makes you feel bad and regretful afterward. And sometimes things have been said that make the problem worse, and feelings get hurt. Words can cause scars. We should all try not to give ourselves or our loved ones too many of those scars. They don’t heal like wounds on flesh do.”
Suzie’s face and shoulders relaxed. She looked up at Hester. “I’m sorry, Hessie. I don’t mean to be bad. I just want to climb trees. I don’t want to sit down on a blanket and read. That’s not fun for me. I mean, I like reading but not all the time.”
Pearl felt a wave of relief when Hester smiled at Suzie. “Oh, I know, dear. I’m sorry, too. I guess I am too anxious for you to be a lady. You’re such a pretty young thing. I’m afraid you will hurt yourself. That’s all.”
Suzie stuck out her lower jaw and tilted her head to the side, avoiding meeting Hester’s eyes. Instead, she took a step forward and wrapped her arms around Hester’s waist. The woman was too big and Suzie was too small for her arms to reach all the way around. But she pressed her cheek against Hester. Pearl saw the look of contentment on her little sister’s face.
“Now that’s better, isn’t it?” Pearl asked, smiling at them. “Peace is always better than arguments, don’t you think? Makes you feel much better.”
Suzie opened her eyes to look at her big sister. She nodded, pulling back and giving Hester a smile. “It does feel better to hug than to argue.”
Hester nodded. “Yes, dear, it certainly does.”
Satisfied that her work was done, Pearl said goodbye to the two and went out the door to confront the neighbors.
Pearl rode up to the Dillon ranch, gathering her courage the closer she got. She’d been thinking about what she wanted to say the entire ride but couldn’t be sure what reception she would get. She saw three of the Dillon ranch hands gathered outside the bunkhouse. They were apparently taking a break and as she rode closer to the main house, she could tell they were watching her. One of them turned to the others and said something, making his companions laugh and nod.
She wondered what he’d said.
Forcing herself to remain calm, she dismounted and threw the reins over the post above the horse trough. She held up her skirt as she ascended the porch steps so she wouldn’t trip. She hadn’t changed and was already beginning to feel the heat of the day combined with her tight nerves. The dress she’d chosen had a high neck and the fabric brushed against the underside of her chin, irritating her.
She looked forward to going home and changing after this.
Pearl took a moment before she lifted her hand and knocked on the door.
Here we go, she thought, waiting for her knock to be answered.
She blew air from her mouth, trying not to hold her breath.
She heard someone on the other side of the door.
It was Irene Dillon who answered, making Pearl wonder why they hadn’t hired a butler since they had enough wealth now to do so. Irene’s face turned from curious and welcoming to irritated and sullen as soon as she saw Pearl.
Pearl had never done anything to Irene but was fully aware they had clashing personalities. Pearl was independent and outgoing. There was something about those traits that made Irene dislike her.
“Oh, it’s you,” the older woman said.
Pearl tried not to let the sneering words distract her from her mission. She wasn’t about to stand in front of this woman and be insulted.
“I need to see your husband, please. I’m sure you know what it’s about.”
Irene’s frown contorted her face, making her look like an evil witch in Pearl’s eyes. She was a good-looking woman and knew how to use make-up to enhance that beauty. It wasn’t the exterior that was the problem. Irene was ugly on the inside.
Pearl thought about her advice to her sister. The relationship might have been different but if Pearl didn’t want to be a hypocrite, she would have to follow that advice herself. She had to show respect for her elders, even if she didn’t feel it genuinely.
“I’m sorry for my abrupt visit,” she said. “But it is urgent that I speak to him about our cattle situation.”
Irene lifted her chin and looked down at Pearl over her nose. “Well, if you must. I don’t know anything about my husband’s business. I’m not interested in the things men do, unlike other people.”
Irene was referencing Pearl’s desire to understand how to run a ranch. It was a bone of contention for her as it was for Hester, except what Pearl wanted to do wasn’t any of Irene’s business.
The woman stepped back and let Pearl inside. “He is in the study. Don’t take a lot of his time. He is a busy man and doesn’t have time for childish games and pranks.”
Pearl straightened her spine and strolled past Irene as if she knew exactly where the study was. She hadn’t been to the house in years. She’d come with her father on a few occasions but had never been on her own.
“The situation is very serious, Mrs. Dillon,” she said in a cold voice. “I am not playing games. Please, where is the study so I might talk to him about this?”
Without replying verbally, Irene lifted her hand and pointed down the south hallway. There were two doors there and one was cracked open.
“Is it the open door?” she asked, glancing at Irene.
The woman nodded, turned on her heel and stomped away, disappearing behind the double doors to what Pearl assumed was the parlor.
As she walked to the study Pearl looked up at the walls, taking in the paintings one by one. Along the left wall were family portraits going back at least fifty years. She could tell by the similar faces that it was the Dillon family history in paint. The other side was covered with paintings of the Montana mountains and landscape.
She stopped at one, recognizing the area. If the painting had been accurate, the viewer would have been able to see part of the Langston Ranch house. But it wasn’t painted in. It was as if the house wasn’t even there, if you looked at the painting.
Sighing at this surprising slight to her family, Pearl went to the door that was cracked open and knocked. She pushed it open and put her head inside, looking for Tobias Dillon.
“Hello? Mr. Dillon?”
Tobias was seated behind a large, dark wood desk. He was scanning papers in front of him with a frustrated look on his face. Pearl wished he was at least in a good mood but he didn’t appear to be. He looked up at her and his face darkened even more.
“What do you want?”
Pearl stepped inside and closed the door halfway. It was not good taste for her to meet the man in a room with a closed door. She didn’t want any rumors started by servants or anyone else who might want to stir up trouble.
“I’m sure you know what I want to discuss, Mr. Dillon. Please, if we could talk about this like civilized adults, we might come to a good solution to the problem.”
Tobias snorted but gestured with a flat hand to the high-backed chairs on the other side of his desk. “Sit down,” he said sternly.
Bracing herself once more, Pearl held on to her temper and took one of the seats.
“I’m sure you know why I’m here,” she began. “And I don’t want to argue with you, sir, because I do have some respect for you and your family. But any respect I have for you will be lost if you insist on stealing our cattle.”
Tobias narrowed his eyes and visibly clenched his jaw. “I have stolen nothing from you.”
Pearl leaned forward slightly, never taking her eyes from the man’s face. He was portly, short and had a wild head of white hair Pearl was certain he never put a brush or comb through. His eyes were like cold iron when they looked at her. It made her uncomfortable, but she would push through it without letting him know that.
“When you were informed our cattle broke through a fence and wandered onto your land, you told us we needed to fix our fence. We take it by that remark that you don’t plan to help us by gathering our cows and sending them back over to our land where they belong. It’s fifty head we were ready to brand and if you don’t return them, that will be considered stealing. Surely you don’t want that kind of reputation? Because I’m certain neither I nor my brother and sister will be able to stay quiet about it.”
“I had nothing to do with the fence breaking,” Tobias replied, in a freezing tone. “What I said was true. You do need to fix it.”
Pearl nodded. “And we plan to. As soon as our cows are driven off your land and back to ours. Till then, we have men guarding it so no more cows will stray across. There is no point in fixing it until our cows are back. And we will not be using that pasture for unmarked cows anymore, seeing as our neighbors can’t be trusted.”
She immediately felt bad for saying that but it was the truth, after all. She watched for his reaction, hoping he wouldn’t blow his stack.
His glare was worth a thousand words and none of them good. “I’ll have you know that I and my family are very trustworthy people. I will not let you insult my family this way.”
Pearl shook her head. “I don’t mean to insult you,” she replied, trying to remain calm. “But I must insist that you return our cattle promptly. They are not yours to keep.”
“Who is to say I don’t just brand them myself? You can spread rumors without proof.”
Pearl held her breath, forcing herself not to snap at the man. “Then you would be the thief I said you are. I know you aren’t like that, Mr. Dillon. Surely your son wouldn’t allow this kind of blow to your family reputation? My father’s ranch is the third largest in Montana. Do you think people will call him a liar if he claims you have stolen fifty head of cattle from us? I am sure he will be believed.”
Tobias snorted. “Because of his money.”
Pearl shook her head. “No, sir. Because of his character. If fifty head of your cattle had burst through the fence onto our property, they would immediately be returned to you. How can you justify not doing that for us? We haven’t caused you problems; we’ve had no issues for at least a year now, hasn’t it been? Surely you don’t want to break the fragile trust you have built with my father over this time? I thought we had a peace treaty going on here.”
Pearl hoped her calm tone would encourage Tobias to lighten up with his attitude. He stared at her while she spoke and turned his eyes to look out the window when she was done. She gave him a few moments to think about what she’d said, praying and hoping with anxious anticipation. Her small hands were gripped in her lap so tightly that she had to consciously relax them.
“I see your point, Pearl,” Tobias finally said, looking back to her. “I will send one of my men with one of your men to find the cattle and drive them back to your property. But I suggest you take caution that this doesn’t happen again. We don’t want this feud to escalate, do we?”
Relief flooded her and she shook her head. “No, sir, we do not. Thank you. I do appreciate this.”
Tobias gave her a reproachful look. “I have done nothing any decent man would not do. My wife would be devastated if rumors were started about our family. Thieves we are not. And as you said, many would believe your father, while many would not believe me. That’s the price that must be paid for becoming wealthy.”
Pearl blinked, pressing her lips gently together. She’d got what she came for. She wasn’t prepared to be given a lecture by a man who was about to steal from her family. Whether they were neighbors or not.
“When Hearts Know No Boundaries” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Pearl Langston has been her father’s right hand since her mother tragically passed away, while giving birth to her youngest daughter. Tired of fighting off unwanted advances, she has become very prickly towards men. When fifty heads of cattle break through a fence and roam onto the land of their neighbors, the Dillons, Pearl senses the feud between their families is about to explode. Their only child, Tom is an arrogant man that she can barely tolerate until his behavior and decisions will make her wonder if she was wrong all along. Could Tom turn out to be the man of her dreams? Will her determination to stay loyal to her family, destroy her only chance to find happiness?
Tom Dillon is a man of few words but he knows how to get things done. Repressed by his family’s expectations, he tries to obey and follow his parents’ rules and desires. However, no matter how hard he tries, it is impossible for him to ignore Pearl, driven by what his heart truly wants. Hidden deep inside, lies his unspoken love for her. Will he open up to her before it is too late, going against his own blood?
Pearl and Tom will have to rediscover each other and see beyond their families’ rivalry to merge their two, opposing worlds into one. However, some wishes are not meant to see the light of the day and there are far too many obstacles that cast their threatening shadow over this love. Could they stay together against everyone’s will and overcome the barriers that keep them apart? Could two rivals ever really find their soulmate in each other?
“When Hearts Know No Boundaries” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.