Her Cowboy Deputy

By: Lacy Williams

Chapter One

May 1902

Sheriff’s deputy Matty White stumbled out of the bunkhouse, still pulling on his left boot.

In the corral just outside, his brother Seb swung a lasso above his head, aiming for one of the green broke geldings trotting anxiously back and forth and tossing their heads.

Except for Seb, the barnyard was eerily empty. Matty’s big family worked the family ranch together, and nearly everyone showed up for family breakfasts and suppers, so the absence of his older brothers was unsettling.

And it was easy to see why.

Matty clapped his hat to his head as a burst of wind threatened to send it flying. He didn’t like the looks of the swirling clouds, low and heavy in the sky.

“Get those horses in the barn and get inside,” Matty called over his shoulder to Seb.

Seb waved him off. Probably Pa had already told him the same. And...while it was hard to remember sometimes thanks to his antics, his youngest adopted brother was twenty now and man enough to know when it was time to take cover from a storm.

This particular storm looked to be a nasty one, judging by the sky’s sickly green hue.

Hailstones thumped against his shoulders and hat, stinging slightly, as Matty’s boots hit the porch steps.

He burst in through the door, calling for his ma. Penny White was in the parlor with Walt, Ida and Andrew, her and Jonas’s biological children, lined up on the sofa. She was disheveled, a state he rarely saw her in. Her auburn hair was coming out of the simple braid she must have rushed to put it in.

Andrew and Ida, ages five and eight, sat with wide, bright eyes, obviously alerted to the potential danger of the situation.

“Good, you’ve got the little ones,” Matty said. He had to speak loudly in order to be heard above the hail pounding on the roof.

“We’re not little,” eleven-year-old Walt growled. “I’m plenty big enough to ride out with Pa. He shoulda let me go with him.”

“Pa went out?” Matty directed his question to Penny, worry skittering through him. The hail would be uncomfortable or could possibly cause injury. And what if Jonas’s horse spooked?

“Breanna was worried about her mare that’s close to foaling,” Penny explained breathlessly. It seemed she shared his concern. “She ran out of here before either of us could stop her, and Jonas followed. He’ll keep her safe. They can take cover at Oscar’s cabin or Davy’s, depending on where they find the horse.”

If they found her. The animal was half wild—a little like his stubborn seventeen-year-old sister—and would likely hole up wherever she could find shelter. The family ranch had expanded as each adopted brother gained his majority, and there was plenty of land to cover. Seb, Matty and Breanna were the only unmarried siblings left at home.

But Penny was right. Now that his older brothers had married and built their homes around the ranch, Jonas and Breanna could take cover with one of them. Even Maxwell and his wife, Hattie, both doctors, had a place out here. They split their time between home and the nearby town of Bear Creek, where their clinic served those in town and the neighboring areas.

Seb burst through the door, snapping it closed against the wind that threatened to tug it out of his hands. “It’s getting bad out there.” He wiped the brim of his hat, and his hand came away wet. Several hailstones clattered to the floor at his feet.

“You got any quilts handy?” Matty asked Penny. “Get the children huddled up beneath them. Just in case.”

He didn’t go after the blankets himself. He’d grown up in this house, but as the White family had grown with Jonas and Penny’s biological children and as the older boys had begun wanting more independence, they’d moved out to the bunkhouse. And he knew how particular his ma was with how she preferred her house to be kept.

Penny disappeared into the hallway toward the bedrooms and reappeared moments later with an armful of quilts.

“I ain’t no baby,” Walt protested, attempting to shove away the thick quilt that Penny extended to him.

“Listen to Ma,” Matty said sharply. He didn’t like to take that tone with his younger brother, but this wasn’t a moment to assert his independence—things could get dangerous, fast.

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