The Contract by Violet L Ryan by Violet L Ryan - Read Online

About

Summary

Young Adult Romance. When my mother remarried after thirteen years of being a widow, I had to move to a new town and enroll in a new school. Suddenly thrust into an entirely different kind of life, I just wanted to go home. I didn't want to meet new people, didn't want to leave my old friends, didn't want to become a third wheel to my mom and her husband....and I really didn't want to see Ryder Yates again. Ugh, I still don't know why I turned down that too-good-to-be-true boy who flirted with me when we were attending separate schools. But honestly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It was worse. Who knew becoming lost in a new life could help a girl find her true colors?
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611606973
List price: $3.99
Availability for The Contract
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.

Reviews

Book Preview

The Contract - Violet L Ryan

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1

25

The Contract

by

Violet L. Ryan

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2014 by Violet L. Ryan

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-697-3

Cover Artist: Gemini Judson

Editor: Tricia A. Isham

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

Thanks to author Toni Cantrell for editing advice.

Chapter 1

1869-Montana Territory

The ax arced high in the sky, paused for a second, and descended with all the force at Barney’s disposal. The razor-sharp blade thudded into a log chunk and vibrated up her arm to shoulder joints already sore from previous impacts. Disgusted, she studied the little split from her best effort. Last summer she hadn’t needed to chop much wood. Pa’s supply lasted until a month ago. Once more, she looked at the tiny crack and sighed. Even with this early start, she’d be lucky to have enough wood stored to take her through the coming winter.

She raised a gloved hand, swiped sweat, and left a smear of dirt across her damp forehead. April sun had warmed the Montana spring morning to seventy degrees, already warm enough without the added exercise. She straightened and gazed toward the east—her favorite view from the foothills where her cabin stood. The Missouri River lay like a discarded gray ribbon in the far distance, and the Big Belt Mountains formed a white-peaked blue and purple backdrop beneath the bowl of Montana’s big sky. Spring green blended with a rainbow of colors provided by new buds and blooms across the valley floor.

Barney breathed deeply, and filled her lungs with morning freshness. Mountain air tickled her nose with the scent of fresh-cut wood and lingering smoke from an early breakfast. She loved her high prairie home.

A movement caught her attention and Barney shifted her gaze to the road at the end of her long lane. Too far to make out details, but she distinguished a big coal-black horse with a rider astride. Barney reached for the fringed buckskin jacket that matched her brother’s pants—both much too large for her thin, five-foot-seven frame, but well suited to her needs.

She slipped the jacket on, lifted Pa’s single-shot rifle and cradled the barrel on her left arm, then stood poised, legs apart in a no-nonsense stance, and waited for the man’s approach. Long before he arrived, she identified him. Jacob Cooper, her aloof next door neighbor. He lived five miles away by road, four across prairie land, a distance great enough they had never been formally introduced.

While she waited, Barney mentally listed the few things she knew about him. Not much, in fact. A tall, fairly good-looking man, she thought around twenty-five-years old, owned fifteen-thousand acres that joined hers on the north with another five-thousand on the far side of his, owned by his brother. She’d heard mention of a grandmother and seen his large, pale-yellow house with a huge graceful porch from the road a few times when Pa let her ride to Holker with him, but they usually traveled in the other direction to a nearby trading post.

Jacob had turned into her lane and she watched him close the distance. He sat the big black like he’d been born in that saddle. She spent several seconds admiring the horse. Shiny, healthy, solid black coat, fifteen hands high, broad forehead, alert suspicious eyes, flared nostrils. Definitely not a trusting beast.

She turned her attention to the rider who looked tall, even seated. He wore dark wool pants and shirt. A black leather vest decorated with silver buckles hung loose around his broad chest. A Stetson sat low on his forehead, almost obscured green eyes and a handsome, wide-bridged nose. Dark brown locks stuck out around his ears. A sculpted mouth firmed in a disagreeable line foretold of a man on an unpleasant mission.

The horse slowed to a stop ten feet from Barney. The taciturn man simply stared for long seconds. She sensed disapproval, saw distaste curl his lip, and refused to speak first. Finally he seemed to reach a decision.

Miss Barnett. He touched a finger to his hat brim. Name’s Jacob Cooper from the ranch to your north. I’ve come with a proposition. He paused, tried to inject a bit of enthusiasm into his tone. I’m thinking you need a help-mate with your pa and brother dead. I need an heir or two to learn ranching and inherit what’s mine when I’m gone. He waited for a response.

Barney felt a drop of sweat run down her temple and left another smear when she swiped her jaw. Her gaze zeroed in on his expression and she narrowed deep blue eyes. Don’t sell me too short because I’m not pretty, Mister Cooper. You’re not the first man come sniffing after my land. Sweetwater Creek keeps my little lake full all year, rain or shine. Water’s a mighty valuable asset during draught. Plenty men want to marry me nowadays.

Jake felt a frisson of alarm skitter down his back. Maybe he’d waited too long to proceed with his plan. You accepted any offers yet?

She shook her head.

Mind if I ask why?

Most are down-on-their-luck drifters. I doubt they’d know a bull’s butt from a horse’s hoof.

Jake leaned forward, rested his arms on the saddle horn, and tried not to let his relief show. I see you already figured out the way of cowboys. I have a healthy respect for intelligence in a woman. Tell me, these other men offering anything in return?

Not a red cent. You saying you are?

Yes, ma’am.

Please don’t insult me with professions of love, Mister Cooper. I’d sooner buy Manhattan from a peddler than believe a tale like that.

A small tic at the corner of his lips tried to turn into a smile, but he controlled the urge. No, ma’am. Love’s not an option for me—not now, not ever. Tried that once. Once was enough. I expect you heard all about Lori Swain and me. After she up and run off with Neil Snider, I vowed I’d never be that much a fool again. He straightened and pulled Shadow’s reins through one hand. If you accept my proposal, we’ll have us a straight-forward contract. Unlike your other men, I’m offering a fair deal. My fifteen thousand acres and your five with good water joined in both our names. The contract will state that if either of us dies, or leaves, the other will own both places. When children come along, they’ll be included as heirs. Does that sound fair?

Fair didn’t describe what she thought. More like stunned. Most men held all property in their name alone. When she tried to speak, she had to clear a blockage from her throat before vocal cords worked. Sounds like you mean to have a real marriage.

That’s a fact. If you agree, we’ll go to Helena and tie a proper knot, make sure you and our children have their rights protected. He waited for a positive reply, certain she’d see good sense. He swept an appraising glance over her, took in the men’s clothes, dirty face, belligerent expression, and relaxed. A woman who looked the way she did couldn’t hope for a better offer.

I need to think on this.

Surprised, he tightened the reins. Shadow pranced in place then settled. In spite of her unexpected reply, Jake remained undeterred I’ll come over tomorrow for an answer. You do realize you’re not exactly safe here on your own? Some of these men may feel impatient enough to force a decision from you.

I’m not completely alone. Pete lives out in the barn. She stopped and thought about the tracks under the kitchen window. A tiny frown etched her brow. Besides, how can they force me to do anything if I don’t want to?

I hate to say the nasty word, ma’am, but a desperate man might use rape in order to gain a prize he wants bad enough. He’d expected a horrified reaction, but saw only blank, blue eyes and a puzzled expression. She didn’t know what the word meant. I-uh. Well. He stumbled and mumbled, then stopped and drew a great breath. Rape’s when a man forces the…marriage act on a woman. Jake felt heat flood his face, knew his skin turned bright red. Just watch your back. He started to turn, then confused poor Shadow by wheeling around. That means be careful. Lock doors and windows. Sleep with that rifle handy.

I know what ‘watch your back’ means, Mister Cooper. And I always do.

* * * *

That was certainly unexpected, Barney thought as Jacob Cooper and his gorgeous horse disappeared down the road. Of all the men she’d ever seen—and she hadn’t seen that many until after Pa died—Mister Cooper would have come in dead last on her list of possible suitors.

She had caught glimpses occasionally, at church once and at a town meeting Pa had taken her to, but how many times had she seen him up close? Twice that she remembered. Eight years ago, he attended Henry’s funeral with his family. As isolated as she’d always been, she’d heard of the Coopers and watched the entire group with a feeling of awe. Eleven at the time, and spellbound by the pretty eldest son, she stared at seventeen-year-old Jacob until he couldn’t ignore her any longer and sent a rude glare her way. Embarrassed, she didn’t look at him again.

A few years later, Pa took her to an auction when old man Tescher died and the son from back east sold his large holding and all his possessions. Ranchers came from as far north as Great Falls and as far south as Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Cooper family had outbid others on the five thousand acres that bordered their land because, Pa claimed, they had actual money.

Even back then, Jacob had Lori Swain on his arm. They must have sparked three or four years before she ran off.

Some said his brother Levi had the good looks, tall and muscular with brown eyes and unruly dark brown hair worn long on top. Only three years older than herself, she’d heard him referred to as the indulged younger son.

But Jacob, with his penetrating green eyes, dark countenance, and honorable qualities, had presence. He had the kind of personality that demanded respect from other men and brought smiles of secret longing from their women. A man no one crossed unless they didn’t mind facing the consequences.

Barney turned back to the log she’d tried to split and studied that tiny crack again. If she married Jacob Cooper before winter, she wouldn’t need to grow any more calluses on her poor abused hands. She wouldn’t have to muck out stalls, milk cows, or gather eggs. Wouldn’t have to pick berries and grow plenty of vegetables to fill every available canning jar. She even canned fish and trapped small animals to dry their flesh into jerky—all just to have enough food to last until spring.

Of all the men who’d nosed around, only Jacob had a nice place of his own. He ran a couple thousand head of cattle part of the year but sold about half before snow blew in and stranded herds in high country. Smart rancher, so Pa said, and she reckoned he spoke true.

She turned over the idea of marriage with him and looked for flaws. He seemed kind enough. From everything she’d heard, he didn’t mistreat animals and took good care of his younger brother and grandmother. His proposal sounded completely honest. At least he hadn’t tried to fill her head with pipe dreams and fairy tales like some of the others.

Would that be enough to make a marriage? She thought about Mary Kemp. Every time Pa took Barney to church, or let her go with her friend, Ella Downing, Mary had bruises on her face and arms. She walked with a limp and bent as if her stomach hurt. She died at the age of twenty-four, and no one ever knew why—but Barney had a fair idea. One look at that big, mean husband of hers told a horrible story. She’d noticed his skinned, swollen knuckles each time Mary looked battered.

Kindness alone might be all a woman needed to have a decent marriage.

She knew honesty would make up for a lot of other faults, too, some that she had seen first-hand. Her pa had left dirty clothes where they fell, wore those same garments later as if they washed themselves, and ate the meals she worked hard to prepare without a word of praise. Made her blood boil. A great number of his disagreeable habits had that effect, so she knew the ways of men. But if Mister Cooper played straight with her, she could manage the rest.

How would he feel about her anonymous friend—if that term could even be applied? Did you have to know people to call them friend? Have contact with them? See them? She’d only seen tracks beneath her kitchen window, but considering the feet wore moccasins, she had reason to believe she’d seen him before.

Back in January, she rode to the high pasture to drag down a tree for kindling. On the way, a movement drew her attention. A black and white pony drank from her lake. An Indian, Cheyenne judging by hair, feathers, and visible paint markings, sat astride. They were too far away for any more details and made no threatening move, so she continued on her mission without showing alarm. But she’d bet Aunt Fannie’s firefly he left those imprints outside her cabin.

And he made no effort to hide them. Most un-Indian-like. In fact, he blatantly pilfered the loaf of bread she’d baked that same afternoon and even managed to close the shutters afterward. The next morning she found a dressed rabbit wrapped in dried cornhusks hanging from a nail on her porch.

Two nights later, with more than a little unwise bravado and without a single sensible motive, except perhaps loneliness, she left three cookies in the same spot. At daybreak, the cookies had vanished and three lovely catfish hung from the nail.

Barney took to leaving something from time to time—bread, cookies, a slice of pie or cake—on the sill. Mornings often brought rabbit, coon, or some sort of fish. She felt the exchange quite fair.

* * * *

She had no reason to fear the Great Cheyenne Nation. Since she could remember, the people had watched over her family. While many settlers suffered attacks from numerous tribes, the Bar B had enjoyed freedom from war parties and Indian raids.

Pa had explained the reason. In 1848, his brother Willis died. Willis had never married and produced heirs, so the bachelor left his ranch to his only sibling, Everett Barnett. Everett packed up his wife Wanda and four-year-old son Henry and traveled from Virginia to Montana to start a new life with Willis’ legacy.

In ’49, a cholera epidemic reached the Great Plains, resulting in huge losses of life for the Plains Indians. The Cheyenne were hit especially hard. Everett, who had trained with a Virginia physician for two years, had some knowledge of the disease. He helped all he could and gained a reputation with the people for friendliness and compassion.

His aid came to an end when he contracted the illness himself and almost died. By the time he recovered, the crisis had, for the most part, passed.

In ’50, Wanda gave birth again, and Barney made her presence known in the Barnett home. Eight-year-old brother Henry fell in love with the tiny pink bundle at once and took over much of her care while his mother recuperated from a difficult labor. Unfortunately, Wanda didn’t snap back as she had with Henry, but lingered, weak and sickly, for two years.

In ’52, Everett found an unconscious Indian child from the small Nahkoyo family that camped beside the Missouri River between Helena and Three Forks, not far from the Bar B. He mounted up and carried the boy to his village, only to find others with the same symptoms. Cholera had struck again.

Everett spent a month with the Nahkoyo, doctoring the deathly-sick Indians. At a time when most white men welcomed anything that killed redskins, Everett used his limited medical experience to save their lives. He nursed the Cheyenne family leader, Honiahaka, a wife Ánováóó'o, and their son Tahkeome through the dark days of their illness. Those three and many others survived because of Everett’s treatments. From that day forward, the Barnett family came under the Nahkoyos’ protection from hostile Indian raids—and through them, the entire Cheyenne Nation.

Everett paid a high price for his kindness. He brought the disease home to his sickly wife, and in her weakened condition, she couldn’t fight off the fevers. She died three days after Barney’s second birthday.

* * * *

With Jacob’s counsel ringing in her ears, Barney wondered if she’d been foolish, too trusting. What if the Indian sighting and food exchanges weren’t connected? She didn’t have a shred of proof either way. Nor did she feel all that brave with her redskin neighbors. Many white families had forfeited lives and lost scalps to angry warriors who tried to defend their hunting grounds from foreign invaders. With Pa’s death, Cheyenne protection might have ended. How would she know?

Albert Nub wound around her leg and between buckskin-covered ankles. She bent and lifted the scrappy tomcat against her chest. He immediately set up a purr that equaled a buzz saw for volume. She loved the tom. Even before Pa died in a cattle stampede, her horse Snowflake was her only outlet for affection. Pa did his best to raise his girl-child, but hard as Barney tried, she could never be a boy. Consequently, her relationship with her father lacked affection and communication. Barney accepted his distance, which lengthened after Henry’s death, but recognition didn’t dim the sadness or loss.

Then one morning two months ago, she found Albert on her porch, a tiny scrap of soft fur and a rough tongue to go with the big purr, and she had two friends. She stroked the fat cat for the sheer joy of contact with a living being.

She named him for the physician her pa had worked with and later added Nub because he came home one morning with half his tail missing—therefore the fancy double name. Her fingers found a new crust of blood in his yellow tiger fur and she examined him for fresh injuries. You leave another victim, Albert? she crooned to the happy feline when she found nothing wrong. He merely leaned his head back against her arm, presented his white neck for a tickle, twisted his body, and batted her chin with his paw. You charmer, she purred right back. When will you learn to stay out of fights? One day you’ll meet your match and fur will fly. I just hope it’s not yours.

Albert simply stretched, yawned, and closed his eyes.

Chapter 2

With outdoor chores finished for the day, Barney headed for the cabin. The log structure contained only two rooms. At great expense, Uncle Willis had ordered planks shipped from the sawmill in Chicago to use for flooring. A tiny bedroom with a small bed and shelves for clothes and linens took only a third of the space, leaving the larger room for an old walnut kitchen table scrubbed free of oil and resin, four strong, heavy chairs, and an old wood stove that served to heat during frigid winters as well as cook meals year round. A square of oilcloth covered the window and provided privacy in hot summer months when shutters remained open.

Still deep in thought, she fried the squirrel she found that morning, opened a jar of corn, and boiled two wrinkled potatoes from the root cellar. They had lasted better than she expected, but if her early plants didn’t survive, she and Pete would have to eat greens at every meal. He didn’t especially like dandelions.

Peter Coggins, a sixty-year-old wrangler, had worked for Pa for twelve years, first as a ranch hand, then as manager. He claimed to stand five-foot-nine and weigh one-hundred-thirty pounds, but Barney suspected he stretched both numbers. Deep lines mapped his leathery face. Age and arthritis brought out a cranky streak, but he still handled their horseflesh like a pro and took good care of the cattle. He did most of the repairs as well—with Barney’s help. She also washed his clothes and cooked meals for them both, just as she had since she turned ten.

Pete felt more like family than employee, so she broached the subject of her marriage without the least hesitation. Had another matrimonial offer today.

Yeah? Pete forked a big bite of squirrel into his mouth and chewed. Jaws still working on the morsel, he asked, Which one a them good-for-nothin’ louts is tryin’ to steal yer land now?

Barney swallowed a bite of potato before she answered. Jacob Cooper.

Huh? Well, now, girlie, I’m thinkin’ ya gone an’ hit the mother lode. That boy’s worth the whole lot a the others put together. Ya tell ’im yes?

Not yet, but I expect I will. You all right with that, Pete?

’Course, girl. But why ya askin’? Ain’t me he’s a marryin’.

I figure it’ll mean a heap of changes. I want to know you’re okay.

I ain’t no baby. I can take care a me.

Barney watched the old cowboy fork another piece of meat and poke it in his mouth, but he seemed to chew slower. Pete? Would you stay on here and keep managing the Bar B? I’m pretty sure Mr. Cooper will go along with whatever I ask right now, and I’ll make the suggestion an order if you’re willing."

Pete leaned back in his chair and studied Barney’s expression. True concern