Chapter 1:

Cole Tucker rubbed his hands together as he stepped out into the cold December air. 4:30 rolled around early right around Christmas time. The young ranch hands he had just hired on began to stumble out of the barn. Cole looked at them for a long minute before saying

"You boy's best get moving! We've got a long day ahead of us."

Cole couldn't stop his grin when a few of the youngsters groaned. He finished drinking his cup of coffee before heading back into the house.

"Mr. Tucker, you should cut those boys some slack."
"Afraid I can't do that, Mary."

The older woman who had been Cole's maid of sorts shook her head. She finished piling eggs and bacon on Cole's plate before saying

"And why not?"

"They won't really know what it means to be a rancher if I do. These boys said they wanted work, and I took a chance on them. If I make it easy for them, they will never be able to run their own ranch."
Mary scoffed before turning back to the stove. Just then, the eight ranch hands came traipsing in. They all smiled feebly at Cole before making polite conversation with Mary. The youngest of the clan, Michael, sat silently and shoveled down his breakfast. Cole watched him with a half smile before saying to the men

"We need to get some branding done. I heard yesterday in town that there has been some trouble with people stealing the cattle, and I certainly can't have that. Be outside in ten minutes, otherwise you're stuck here cleaning out the barn."

Cole walked off, but just before he shut the door he heard one of the young men ask Mary if the boss was always such an ass. Cole just chuckled before pulling the door shut. He headed to the barn, but was quickly interrupted. Michael nodded once at Cole before saddling his horse and heading out of the barn. Cole sighed once before following suit and meeting the young man in the middle of the pasture. As the silence stretched, both men sat on their horses. Michael finally broke the silence.
"Mr. Tucker, I just wanted to thank you for giving me this job. I don't got no family out here, and I needed to find some money in the worst way possible. I appreciate you takin' a chance on me."

"Michael; you've been working hard for the past few weeks, and that's all that really matters to me. Where's your family son?"
"I should probably be gettin' back; I don't want the others to think I'm slacking out of my duties."

Michael spurred the horse and rode at top speed. Cole sighed once before turning and heading back. As he nudged Spear, his black and white stallion, Cole thought about his ranch. He had worked hard for the past ten years to get the place up and running; he was proud of himself. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, though, and thought of what it would be like to have a family. He lived to become a rancher, but he dreamed of the day when he could teach his own children the trade. Living out in the middle of Montana, though, life usually revolved around ranching. He was 25 and longed for a family. However, he barely had time to sleep, and even then his dreams were distorted pictorials of his ranch; failing, succeeding, and everything in between. Cole adjusted his cowboy hat before pushing Spear into a run. He may not have everything he wants right now, but what he did have was pretty damn good.

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"Sam, I said no. You're too young to be going out with your brother."
"Daddy, I'm 23 years old; two years older than Sara when she went on her first ride."
Samantha Younger glared at her father; he always kept the reins short concerning her.
"I was on the ride with Sara when she went; today, I've got to head into town. I'm sorry sugar bean, but you're too young to be going out with them by yourself. They get a little rowdy."

Sam eyed her father for a long minute; she knew better than to argue but giving in was too easy. She finally turned and walked out of the room, going back upstairs. She flopped down on her bed and closed her eyes, only to be interrupted by a knocking at the door.
"Momma, I know it's you."
Her mother opened the door and Sam sat up. The two women looked at each other for a second before Hannah Younger spoke to her daughter.
"I know your Daddy is pretty stubborn, but he just wants what's best for you."
"I know that Momma, but he's got to let me grow up sometime. For crying out loud, I'm 23 years old."
"And you think that makes you a grown up."

Sam sighed before looking away. She hated arguing with her parents, but her father had to stop trying to control her life.
"No, it doesn't make me a grown up, but it doesn't make me a kid either. Mom, I didn't go back East to school so I could stay here and help with the ranch. Daddy won't even give me a chance to prove myself. You know I could keep pace with Seth, and Daddy knows it too. Why won't he at least let me go riding?"
Sam rolled over, not wanting to hear her mother defend her father like always. Hannah touched her daughter's arm before saying
"Sweetie, you're his last daughter; Sara is gone, and he doesn't want to lose you too. I don't think he gets, though, that the more he babies you the greater the risk of losing you."

Sam closed her eyes, hating that her mother had hit the nail right on the head. Her mother finally left her alone; Sam watched the sun come up before finally giving in to her father and heading down to breakfast.