It's drafted!!!! Last night I finished the draft of the follow up to A Shared Range. For all of you who asked, A Troubled Range is Phillip's story. I know it took long enough. You'll also see some old friends and hopefully make some new ones. Here's a sneak peek excerpt. This is completely unedited, so you must forgive my mistakes. (There are bound to be plenty)
“Haven! What in hell are you doing there watching nothin’?” His father’s sharp voice carried across the quiet rangeland to where he was standing near the gurgling water. “There ain’t nothin’ over there for you boy.” His father’s voice got louder and Haven turned around, sighing softly before walking away from the fence that formed the border between his family’s land and the neighboring ranch. Moving toward his father as the tall man strode across their rangeland toward the small river, Haven stopped himself from taking one last look. “Come on, there’s no use lookin’ cause what’s over there don’t matter,” His dad added sharply and Haven ducked the half-hearted swipe his dad took at his head.
“I was just looking, wondering why their land looks so much better than ours.” Haven made sure he was well away from his father when he said that. If he were close enough his dad would take another swipe at him and this time it he’d be aiming to hurt.
“You know why. Them fags take more than their fair share of the river and don’t leave enough water for us. Sides, I won’t have you looking and watching them. Whatever Jefferson Holden did wrong with his son, I don’t intend to do with you. “
Haven fell into stride beside his father. Nearly the man’s height and almost as broad, Haven knew he shouldn’t have anything to be afraid of when it came to his father. “What makes you think Mr. Holden did anything wrong?”
“You reap what you sow And Jefferson Holden must have sown something pretty bad to be struck down sick like he was and to have his son turn into some kind of sissy.” Kent Jessup turned away from Haven spitting out a wad of his chewing tobacco before hauling out the can from his back pocket. “You sure you don’t want some?” Kent asked offering Haven the tin. “It’ll make a man out of you.”
Haven shook his head, keeping the disgusted look off his face. He’d tried that stuff once and nearly threw up. Arriving in the yard near the barn, his dad said nothing as he peeled off for the house and Haven continued on toward the barn. There was plenty to be done. “Don’t be shirking your chores,” his dad called as he walked up the steps into the house.
“Ain’t me shirking chores,” Haven said under his breath as he walked into the barn. At least it was clean and all the horses were out in their paddocks, not that there were many of them. Opening the tack room door, he went inside, grabbing Jake’s bridle, checking the leather to make sure it was still sound. Something he now did habitually after the reins broke on a set a month ago. Looking around, he saw how old everything looked and he realized that was because his dad hadn’t bought any replacement equipment in years. Even the trucks the ranch loved and died by were almost two decades old..
“Haven, that you?” A deep voice called from outside the door.
“Yeah, Kade, it’s me,” Haven called as he finished gathering what he needed.
“Thank goodness,” Haven heard the relief in the man’s voice. He knew that tone well. Everyone on the ranch walked on egg shells around his dad, it wasn’t just Haven. “You heading out?”
“Gonna ride fence for the afternoon.” It was one of the chores he liked. It got him away from the house for hours, even an entire day at a time. “Need to check the western borders. In the spring, I noticed that some of the posts might be weak and we’ll need to move some of the herd down there in a few weeks, particularly if we don’t get any rain.” He knew he was testing the fences that bordered the Holden Ranch and if his dad found out he’d probably be angry as hell for some stupid reason.
“You want me to ride the range, check for any weeds.”
Haven smiled, “Sure. Grab your gear and I’ll meet you in the yard, saddled and ready in half an hour.”
Kade grabbed his gear and hurried away. The kid had energy and a real will to please and when his dad wasn’t around, he did great. Setting his gear on pegs outside the stall, Haven followed Kade outside. Whistling for Jake the chestnut gelding came right over, tossing his head excitedly. Taking him by the halter, Jake led his horse into his stall and started the grooming process. Jake loved to be groomed and moved into every stroke of the brush almost like it was a lover. If the big baby had been a cat, he’d have purred.
Slipping the bit into Jake’s sensitive mouth, he finished saddling the horse, checking the girth twice before leading him out into the yard. “You ready Kade?”
“Yup,” he answered excitedly, climbing into the saddle. They headed out across the range, through the shallow water before heading west toward the ranch border fence. “Haven.”
“Yeah,” he answered as he made for the line of fence posts.
“Why’s your dad hate Dakota so much? He’s never been anything but nice to everybody far as I know. Helps everybody out when they need it and more that most from what I hear.” Kade didn’t look up as he watched the pasture land around him, looking for anything that could make the cattle sick.
“The only thing I can figure is because Dakota’s queer.” Haven saw Kade’s head jerk up at the word. He knew he shouldn’t have used it, especially with the feelings he himself had had for as long as he could remember. Haven knew Kade was looking at him and he needed to cover somehow. “Not that it matters to me, but them dad always held with that church stuff. I never paid it no mind.” He added as nonchalantly as he could. Haven made his way toward the fence line with Kade a little ways away watching the ground. “Maybe it’s just cause dad’s jealous or something. Everything that happens, he tries to blame it on the Holdens, always has. God himself could sweep down in a blaze of glory and he’d blame the Holden’s that God’s brightness hurt his eyes.”
Kade snickered, but said nothing more before riding off to continue checking the range. Haven moved closer to the fence, watching the wire and posts as Jake made the route he knew well. A few of the posts looked as though they might be ready to give and Haven dismounted, holding Jake’s reins as he checked, but they held fine and he remounted, continuing on his way. In a few placed, he saw where posts had already been replaced and he made a note to thank Dakota the next time he saw him. There was no way he’d tell his dad, he’d only yell that Holden had been on his property rather than being grateful that the man had actually fixed the fence for them.
At the far end of the range, Haven looked back along the line before starting down the back section. He saw Kade weaving through the range and let his thoughts wander. He liked it out here alone where he could think away from his father’s stiflingly vocal, self righteous convictions. Fencing and posts passed by as he and Jake slowly made their way along the back of the range. Post after post, acre after acre passed by them. A few times, he pulled Jake up to check posts and to help keep his eyes sharp.
At the far corner of the range, he dismounted and fished in his saddle bags for pliers. Jake lowered his head, feeding, looking content as Haven worked to fix a break in the fence. Twisting the barbed wire back together, Haven worked carefully, keeping his gloved fingers away from the barbs, but as he repaired one break, another section of wire pulled away from the post. “Damn it!” Haven swore, there just wasn’t quite enough wire left to really fix it. After working a while, Haven finally managed to knit the break back together.
Crack! The sound had Haven jumping out of his skin. Looking around he saw the dark clouds of a storm rolling in fast from the west. “It’s okay Jake. Let’s go home.” Haven could feel the horse’s nerves and he opened the saddle back to put his tools away. Crack! Boom!! The thunder rolled through the air, making the ground shake. Jake reared and Haven found his butt bouncing on the ground as Jake raced away in a complete panic, hooves tearing up the ground as he got smaller and smaller, galloping fast back toward the barn.
“Shit!!!” Haven hollered as the wind picked up. With nothing else to do, Haven began walking the fence line back the way he came. If he were lucky the storm would be dry, bringing wind and noise, but no rain. But that he doubted as the next gust of wind carried the scent of water on it and he picked up the pace, practically running.
Haven looked around, but knew what he’d see; nothing at all for miles in any direction except open range and fence. There had once been a range cabin just beyond the fence, but it had fallen down in a storm a few years earlier and his dad was too cheap to rebuild it. So he had no choice, he had to walk and pray.
Another crack followed instantly by a clap of thunder that had Haven holding his ears and clamping his eyes shut. He swore he could almost feel the heat, he sure as hell could smell the crackling in the air. Looking up, he saw smoke rising from the range just to the west. “Holy fuck,” he said to himself, eyes wide in fear, “The range is on fire!” Haven hurried, racing along the fence line as the smoke grew in intensity, spreading in the nearly dry grass.
The first raindrop splatted against his shoulder, dig and full, followed by another and another. Looking up at the nearly black sky, Haven checked for swirls, but saw none. Continuing to hurry along the fence line, the wind picked up again as the sky opened up, sheets of rain wetting him to the skin in an instant. At least he didn’t have to worry about the fire, but the rain picked up even more, sheets of water driven past him by gale force winds, his wet shirt flapping in the wind.
With no shelter at all, his only choice was to continue trying to get home. Haven knew it wasn’t safe out in the weather, but he didn’t have a choice.
Finally, he reached and began the turn toward the house. He could barely see, the water blowing into his eyes. “Haven.” Hearing his name in the wind, he tried to call back, but just got a mouthful of water. Peering through the gloom, he saw a figure on horseback materialize on the other side of the fence. “Haven, is that you?”
“Yes,” he called into the wind as a horse and rider came closer on the other side of the fence. “Dakota?” He couldn’t see who it was the yellow rain gear.
“Climb through the fence.” Dakota got off the horse and carefully spread the wire. Haven did the same, gingerly threading himself between the sharp barbs before standing next to the snorting horse. “Get on behind me and we’ll get you inside.” Dakota mounted the huge horse before pulling Haven up behind him. Haven held on tight as the horse began to move.
“How can you see in this?”