When Sarah McKinney's father dies tragically, she takes over the cattle ranch on the Texas Gulf Coast. To save the breed stock and make a fresh start, Sarah is forced to lead a harrowing cattle drive to sell off the herd. Amid the turmoil, Sarah finds herself distracted by her uncle’s young law apprentice, Frederick Chessher.
Frederick is drawn to the strong woman who stares adversity in the eye and wins, but if he is to court Sarah, Frederick must end a relationship with a girl from Beaumont, Texas. He sets off.
When a great storm hits from the Gulf of Mexico, Frederick rushes back on an ill-fated train ride.
Will he make it to the Bolivar Point Lighthouse where Sarah has taken refuge, or will he be claimed by the storm like thousands of others?
For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. Psalm 61:3
Bolivar Peninsula, Late Summer 1900
Sarah Jane McKinney had dreaded the coming night for some time now. The very thought of having to deal with that crotchety old man had her stomach performing somersaults. On more than one occasion she’d heard Daddy refer to him as a shyster. And if he was brazen enough to try pulling something over on Daddy, then taking advantage of a house full of women should be as easy as drawing ants to a picnic.
“Come on, Ginger.” Sarah Jane clicked her tongue and tugged the reigns. The auburn mare flipped her head in the direction Sarah indicated. The horse’s russet-colored mane swished past long, dark lashes. Ginger had the glamorous eyes of a pin-up girl on a calendar. She nickered and snorted her annoyance at the restless dog running between her legs.
“Come on, Rex. Mama’s gonna be angry if Maisy May gets out of her pen and eats up her vegetables, again.” The keen-eyed dog snapped to attention at the sound of his name. Sarah gestured toward the gate. “Get the rope.”
Eager to please his master, Rex grasped the tattered cords in his mouth and pulled. The wooden gate swung toward the scruffy dog and latched shut.
“Good boy, Rex.”
The milk cow mooed her protest at being shut inside the barn.
Sarah knew firsthand that Maisy preferred the taste of Mama’s homegrown produce to her store-bought feed. “Sorry, girl, but I’m not drinking any more onion-flavored milk.”
With the pen secured, Ginger slowly clopped to her stall in the back of the barn. The slow cadence of her hoof falls indicated her fatigue. All the animals spent their nights in the barn except the beef stock, and Rex of course. Rex stayed in Sarah’s room, much to Mama’s displeasure.
Looking back, Sarah saw Maisy May’s udder bag swishing to and fro as she fell in line behind Ginger. Two goats, the newborn kid, and a half-dozen or more sheep followed in step as they did every evening.
Sarah dismounted and filled Ginger’s feed trough with fresh oats. Sarah unhitched the saddle and lifted it off the horse’s back. She had helped her daddy take care of the ranch for years, with the help of Pedro and the other hands, but now that her father was gone she quickly came to realize how much work there really was. There were so many things that needed attention. If she didn’t get some help soon, the place would fall into disrepair.
Ginger snorted her approval of dinner by plunging her long nose into the feed. Sarah brushed through the horse’s fur, damp from a hard day of work. Ginger’s flanks quivered with each stroke of the brush.
Without warning, Pedro stuck his head around the corner of Ginger’s stall.
Sarah startled, and the goats bleated their condemnation of his intrusion. She put her hand to her chest willing her heart to slow down to its regular pace. I need to put a bell around that man’s neck.
“I’m gonna go now, Miss Sarah, OK?”
“OK, Pedro.” It was an effort for Sarah not to pick up Pedro’s thick Hispanic accent. “Thanks for all your hard work today.”
“I see you next week, OK? We gotta castrate those new bull before Mr. Crosby come for the herd, OK?”
Sarah draped her arms over Ginger’s back. She extended a weary wave to Pedro. Exhaustion overcame her at the very thought of castrating the young bulls. It was disgusting work for sure, but she’d put it off long enough and needed to get it behind her. Her top lip curled thinking about the nauseating job that loomed ahead of them. “See you next week. Say hello to Inez for me.”
He nodded. “OK.” Pedro wasn’t a man much for words. Having said his piece, he disappeared around the corner. He was a good man—their best man. And the only one who stayed on to help her with the herd after Daddy was killed. The others had left, afraid there would be no more work, no more pay. Not Pedro, though. He had been by Daddy’s side for as long as she could remember.
But after the cattle were sold, she’d probably have to let him go too. Daddy’s ranch was too big for three women and one elderly Mexican man to handle. To keep her father’s MK brand alive, she’d have to scale down the operation. At least until she could get more help. Times like these made her wish she had half-brothers instead of two half-sisters.
Pedro led his mule out of the pen, where he kept her during the day, and climbed on her back. It amazed Sarah every time his leg made it over with his diminished stature. He nudged the mule in the flanks and held tight to the homemade harness she wore. She took off down the road with a jingle from the bells around her neck, all the while hee-hawing her grievances. Pedro’s wife, Inez, decorated the mule’s harness with colorful ribbons and bells, making her, as she said, “Muy bonita!”
Sarah removed her cowboy hat, and a passel of long, blonde curls tumbled down. She shook her head and ran her fingers through the straw-colored waves. A cow lowed in the distance, drawing her from the barn. She put the hat back on and walked toward the fence.
One of the fence posts leaned precariously, demanding Sarah’s attention. One more thing she needed to take care of but didn’t have the time or energy for. She chose a sturdy post and leaned her weary body against it. It was the time of day she’d grown to love so much growing up on the peninsula.
The sun appeared larger than usual. It cast brilliant rays of light onto the Bolivar Point Lighthouse standing tall in the distance. The huge tower reflected the dazzling light onto the swampy pond in front of it. The water danced and glimmered. The sun gave forth its final magnificent rays before gently sinking into the waters of Galveston Bay.
The herd of fifteen hundred Texas Longhorn cattle bearing her father’s MK brand grazed in the pasture. The colors of their hides were more varied than an artist’s pallet. She couldn’t imagine a more beautiful sight than the one that lay before her.
“Sarah Jane.” Her short, red-headed mama hollered from the back door. “Come inside and get cleaned up. Mr. Crosby will be here before you know it.”
“I’ll be right in, Mama.” The screen door slammed shut. Oh, Lord, I’m not looking forward to this meeting tonight. You know how Mr. Crosby is. He’s not to be trusted. I need You there to make sure he doesn’t take advantage of us.
God heard her prayers, but ever since Daddy died, it felt as if He was nowhere to be found. If she was to have a successful meeting with Mr. Crosby, she needed all the heavenly assistance she could muster.
Brutus, the oldest and best of their breed stock, bellowed his long, loud cry. The cows followed him into the far pasture with a soft lowing. Mama insisted they keep Brutus after the horrible accident. She asserted they needed him to continue Daddy’s near perfect line.
The broad chested king of the herd sauntered away with prideful arrogance. His seven-foot horn span swayed as he walked. Brutus was a regal animal, but it didn’t matter to Sarah how majestic he might be. She turned toward the house.
She would never forget that he was responsible for goring her daddy to death.