Claiming the Cowboy's Heart

By: Linda Ford
Chapter One

Eden Valley Ranch, Alberta, Canada

August 1882

“I didn’t expect it to be so heavy.” Jayne Gardiner held the pistol between her fingers. She couldn’t bear the cold feeling of the stock against her palm. Her hand trembled and the shiny steel barrel winked in the sun like an evil tormentor. Panic clawed up her throat like threatening flood waters. She struggled to push it back. She knew firsthand the destructive power of a gun.

She stiffened her spine. Fear would not be allowed to rule her life. She would learn to defend herself and those she cared about. She’d be ready to take action if ever another life-or-death situation arose.

Behind her, her friend Mercy laughed. “It won’t bite.” But then, Mercy lived for adventure. That’s why she’d accompanied them on this trip west. As if ready for an escapade, she wore suede riding pants that she’d purchased before they left Fort Benton on their journey to western Canada and the Eden Valley Ranch, and her mahogany hair was pulled back in a braid.

Beside her, Sybil twisted her hands in the fabric of her fashionable pinstripe blue walking skirt. She completed the trio that recently arrived from England. More reserved like Jayne, she wanted to come on this visit to Canada to get over her parents’ deaths.

Jayne had come to visit her brother, Eddie—owner and operator of the Eden Valley Ranch—and his wife, Linette, though some might think she’d come to put the past out of her mind. She tightened her lips. People who thought that would be wrong. She didn’t intend to forget the lessons her past had taught her.

Sybil shuddered, causing the golden curls that had escaped the elegant roll to bounce around her shoulders. Modern wisdom said a woman with curly hair would be of gentle temperament. Sybil lived up to the expectation. “I hate guns.”

Jayne sucked back an echoing shudder. Her brown hair was thick and straight, supposedly indicating a strong-willed woman. So far, she’d proven the statement false but she meant to change that starting now. “I hate what guns do but I want to learn to shoot one.” She studied the target placed about fifty feet away.

The young women were in a grove of trees that sheltered them from the wind and provided slices of shade depending on the position of the sun. They were far enough from the ranch buildings to not alarm Eddie, Linette, or any of the other caring people there who saw no need for Jayne to learn to shoot a gun. Eddie had said it wouldn’t serve any purpose. It wouldn’t bring Oliver back. And, he’d carefully pointed out, there were plenty of cowboys around the place should it be necessary to shoot a gun. What’s more, he’d said with utmost conviction, he didn’t think such an occasion would likely occur.

Jayne had tipped her chin and vowed she’d learn with or without Eddie’s help. It wasn’t some foolish notion of undoing the past. She would not allow herself to ever again feel as helpless as she did on that horrible day. The events had been burned permanently into her brain.

The day she had in mind had been sunny and warm after days of damp sky. Her fiancé, Oliver Spencer, had suggested spending the afternoon together instead of abandoning her to her own amusements while he pursued his as so often happened. On several occasions, she’d objected mildly to the amount of time Oliver spent in gambling establishments. The promise of some quality time together, just the two of them, had caused her to laugh at his jokes, though, as usual, she failed to understand them. He must have thought her so innocent.

They’d been walking side by side along a street lined with shops inviting their business. She had glanced in one window and noticed a beautiful display of lace gloves and thought of purchasing a pair, but she hadn’t suggested a stop because she and Oliver were discussing the future. She didn’t want to distract him.

“We’ll live in the house with Mother and Father. There’s more than enough room. No need to own another house.”

Did he mean she would go from being under her parents’ direct supervision to being under his parents’? She wanted to be a woman with her own home. Of course, it made sense to start with. “Will we get our own home when we have children?” A hot blush had flooded her body at the intimate topic.

Before Oliver could answer, a man had jumped from an alley brandishing a gun and demanded Oliver give him everything.

Jayne had shrunk back into the recessed doorway of the building beside them and watched as Oliver emptied his pockets of quite a lot of cash.

“It’s all I have,” he’d said, his voice hard with anger.

The thief had jammed the money into his pocket. “You know that’s not all I want.” He’d waved the pistol. “Where’s the key?”

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