Rayna Fields is a successful realtor in Calgary, but when she receives a
visit from a lawyer, her whole life is turned upside down.
She hasn’t seen or heard from her father in twenty years. Not since her
mother packed her and their belongings in a truck and drove off Fieldstone
Ranch. Now, she has to make her way to Foremost, Alberta, the “wild
west” of Canada and deal with the dilapidated ranch that was left to her
by her estranged father.
Struggling with her feelings towards her father who has passed on, a
ranch in financial distress, and other problems that crop up along the way,
Rayna turns to the one person willing to help; Vince, the hired hand. But will
his past destroy everything she’s worked towards? And will she be able to
forgive, and find beauty in Alberta’s wild plains?
Rayna reached for the radio dial and turned up the music as her car flew down Red Coat Trail at 110 km per hour. She had left the mountains far behind her, and the road spanning in front had the slow rise and fall of hills that spoke of their own special majesty. To anyone else driving through Alberta, they might have been struck by the beauty, but it was lost on
Rayna. Her mind was far away, preoccupied with thoughts that didn’t involve sight-seeing.
Slowing down just enough to make a turn, she directed her car onto a gravel road. Consulting the written directions on her passenger seat, Rayna saw that it was a straight shot to the ranch from here. Just a few more miles and her long journey would be over, It didn’t bring her any relief.
Driving down the gravel road brought with it no memories. Rayna didn’t really know what to expect, but she had thought there would be more than this nothingness, not even the slightest hint of sentiment or twinge of recognition. Nothing here looked familiar, and yet, this had been her home for the first five years of her life.
News of her father’s death, if he could really be called that, had come last week in the form of legal documents. Craig Fields
had died at the young age of 52 from a heart attack. “Worked himself to death most likely,” was what Carol, her mother, had said. Regardless, he had left everything to Rayna, his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen or spoken to in twenty years. It had been a shock for her. Carol had just nodded and encouraged her with a slight smile. He was trying to do right by her, her mother had offered. Great time to start, thought Rayna, bitterly, as she continued driving down the gravel road that seemed to stretch on forever.
Rayna never knew what had happened between her parents. There was no love lost between them; that was certain. Her mother hadn’t wasted a single tear upon hearing of her ex-husband’s death. And Rayna followed her example; having lived her life without a father, she felt no loss. It might as well have been a stranger that had died for all the emotion she felt.
Now she found herself driving unfamiliar gravel roads near Foremost Alberta. She cringed as gravel pinged off her car, likely peppering the paint with little chips. A cloud of dust followed her, wafting over the rolling hills. She had driven through farmland, but now, as she entered the plains, she was in ranching territory. Wild prairie grass swayed in the light breeze and the occasional antelope bounding across the coulees lent the area an exotic air that could not be ignored. She hadn’t seen
much of this in the province she had grown up in. She was more familiar with the busy city of Calgary and the untamed mountains of Banff and Canmore. She suspected the Alberta plains held their own form of wildness.
Twenty years ago she had left, her mother loading her and their belongings in the truck and driving away. They never once looked back. Her mother, Carol, had always said that the people that lived here were a special breed: hard working and secluded. It wasn’t unheard of to be snowed in or to have roads washed out and be stranded on a farm or ranch for weeks at a time. But they were happy, content with life. Watching the passing scenery Rayna wondered if it had been the land that her mother had run from in all its beauty and hidden trials.
Rayna slowed her car down at the sight of a weather beaten sign swaying on its arch. The words Fieldstone Ranch could barely be made out. “I hope that’s not an indication of the shape the rest of the place is in,” she mumbled under her breath.
Fenced in pasture bordered the driveway that had no visible end, but after cresting a couple coulees the house could be seen on the next ridge. Horses grazed at the bottom of a valley and a wide, lazy stream flowed through the middle.
Despite the gravel dust cloud that chased her, Rayna couldn’t help but feel awe over the beauty of her father’s property.
Pulling into the yard, it became apparent that the sign at the entrance to the ranch was an accurate warning to the shape of the rest of the property. The paint on the white clapboard house was peeling and she could see where the sunbaked shingles were peeling back. The barn wasn’t in any better shape; boards were loose and falling off and the door hung at an angle, attesting to the fact it wouldn’t close. Any beauty she had thought she had seen was gone. Now all she saw was a
rundown home that held very little worth. And to top it all off, it was now her problem.
Rayna parked the car and stepped out. The air was crisp and clean here despite the early summer heat, and the chirping birds made relaxing background music. The sound of her car door slamming announced her arrival, and a dog ran out from behind the barn, barking and jumping.
“Down!” shouted Rayna, moving away from the dirty animal’s bounding paws.
The dog seemed to comply and left her alone but followed close to her feet as if to supervise while she walked across the yard. Gravel crunched beneath her heels as she walked towards the house, and not for the first time, she wished she had worn more comfortable shoes, but she had come straight from work and hadn’t thought to change.
She hesitantly opened the door. It squealed loudly in protest on rusty hinges and made Rayna shiver despite the warm weather. Stepping in, she looked around. The house was in good repair inside, but it was messy. Dust could be seen floating in the sunbeams, layering the windowsills and every other unused surface. Dirty dishes filled the kitchen sink and mail lay strewn across the kitchen table. Rustic oak floors had muddy paw and boot prints and various food spills. It was a typical bachelor’s residence.
Rayna wandered around the small house, trailing her hand across surfaces, picking up dust on her fingertips. She tried to remember something about this place that had once been her home, anything, but she might have well been walking these floors for the first time.
Opening doors, she peered into two bedrooms and a tiny bathroom. It would take a lot of repairs and a little seller’s flare. Something like, “a quaint country home with lots of character.” It sounded nice, but basically meant it was a dump.
Rayna walked back to the kitchen and put a kettle of water on the stove to boil. She’d need to look around a bit more, get a feel for the place, but she needed a break first. Searching through the cupboards she managed to find a clean mug and some dusty tea bags with no label.
Mystery tea, lovely, she thought, a wry smile lighting her face in an attempt to stay positive. At least the sparse cupboards meant she wouldn’t have to pack up much.
The kettle whistled, sounding like a sick, dying bird.
Pouring the boiling water over her mystery tea bag, Rayna took her mug and sat at the kitchen table. Who was this man who had abandoned her? And why had he left all his earthly possessions to her? Perhaps it was out of guilt, or there really was no one else to give it to. She knew nothing of her father; he could have been a hermit for all she knew. A small part of her had thought that he might have re-married and had more kids which was why he had stayed out of her life, but all the evidence
“What are you doing here?” boomed a voice from behind her.
Rayna jolted, rudely ripped from her thoughts, surprised that someone else was here. The sudden movement caused her to tip over her mug, spilling hot tea all over her lap. She jumped up, shrieking in surprise and pain, trying to brush the burning liquid off with no success.
As suddenly as the burning sensation had begun it was gone and replaced with the cold wet of water. Rayna stood still, in shock, water dripping from her shirt and skirt. She looked up at the man who seemed to have lost all anger and now wore a concerned look on his face. An empty bowl hung uselessly from his hand. Recovering from her shock, Rayna glared at the man. “What is your problem?” she shouted. “Sneaking up on me and then throwing water all over me?”
The man grinned and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be here.”
“Who are you and what are you doing here? This is my property.”
“So you’re the daughter.” Understanding lit his eyes. Pulling off an old, weather beaten leather glove, he extended his hand. Rayna gingerly accepted it, feeling his firm grip and rough skin chafe against her own.
“The name is Vince. I’m the hired hand.”
“Rayna. I suppose I should thank you for sticking around and keeping things in order for me.”
Vince smiled and Rayna knew the bitterness in her voice had not gone unnoticed. “I’m not looking for any thanks, just doing my job. How about you get something dry on and I give you a tour of your new place? And I’d put on some more omfortable shoes if I were you.”
Rayna grimaced, she had come here to see the place, but she didn’t really want to go with this cowboy. “I left all my things at my hotel in town. I had no intention of staying here,” she said, looking for an excuse.
“Well then, perhaps we can rustle something up, if you’re interested in the tour, that is.”
He just wasn’t letting it go. Couldn’t he take a hint? “How about I come back tomorrow morning? I’m a bit tired from the drive up.”
Rayna forced a smile, glad he had let it go, and walked past Vince and out the door. He turned to follow her, jogging past to open the car door. Great, a gentleman. Just what she needed.
Crouching in, she fastened her seat belt and looked up at the dirty man leaning on the door of her Audi.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Vince nodded and stood up. “Drive safe,” he said as he shut the door.
Rayna whipped her car around, eager to be gone from the ranch and all the questions that came with it. She’d be more than happy to sell the place and be done with it, forever erasing her father from her life.
Arriving back in the town of Foremost a half hour later, she parked her car outside the small motel and retreated to her room.
It was clean, that much could be said, but other than that it was a cheap motel room and nothing more. Rayna wasn’t exactly thrilled about staying here for the week or two it would take to set her father’s affairs in order, but in a small town like Foremost, there weren’t exactly a lot of options.
Changing out of her damp clothes, she jumped into the shower to wash off the layer of gravel dust that seemed to suck all the moisture from her skin.
It wasn’t late, but Rayna was exhausted. She had worked all morning and part of the afternoon before making the four hour drive out here. But, as much as she wanted to fall into bed, she needed to find something to eat. The hotel had a small bar attached and feeling inclined to stay close to home, Rayna decided it was a good enough option.
Slipping on some clean, dry clothes, she walked around the outside of the building to the front where she entered the dimly lit bar.
It was a lot fuller than she expected for seven or so in the evening, but there was likely no better place to go once the day’s work was done. Her short drive through town certainly hadn’t shown any evidence of anything better.
Finding a seat in a far booth in an attempt to avoid human contact, Rayna waited for a server to appear.
A bubbly blonde with a swaying ponytail came over. She handed Rayna a menu with a broad smile.
“Will anyone be joining you?” she asked.
Rayna shook her head. “It’s just me.”
“Well then, can I get you something to drink?”
Rayna perused the drink menu for a moment. “I’ll have a glass of the chardonnay and a chicken burger.”
“Sure thing. Fries or Caesar on the side?”
“I’ll be right out with that then.”
The waitress walked away, Rayna watching her as she stopped and greeted a table full of boys, likely friends of hers.
Rayna sighed and wished the waitress had offered her water to start. Anything to quench her dry throat. There was no moisture here. Everything felt dusty. Even her skin was starting to feel too small for her body, only adding to her feelings of discomfort, and she’d only been in the ass end of Alberta for a few hours.
It took a good ten minutes to get her wine and the waitress promised again that she’d be right out with her food. Rayna smiled and nodded, but didn’t put much faith in the waitress’ promise. In her experience bar food was never fast. By the time her burger came,
Rayna had finished her wine and just about used up her last drop of patience. She hated this little town more and more with every passing minute. Already it felt like she had been here two hours too long.
“Anything else I can get you?”
Rayna was tempted to get another glass of wine but the thought of delaying her acquaintance with the motel bed had her shaking her head. “No thanks.”
Finishing off her burger and grudgingly admitting to herself that it was actually quite good, she settled her bill and headed back to her room.
Rayna lay in bed, attempting to drift off to sleep, but despite her exhaustion, she was plagued with thoughts of her father’s ranch. How would she stage it? What could she ask for it? She had no real idea what ranches were worth or what the market was for them. And what would she do with the cattle? Did she sell them with the property? Horses? So many questions, some of which she hoped Vince could answer. But that was tomorrow, and tonight the only answer she needed was the one to her prayer for sleep.
Christine has been writing stories since she could put pen to paper and form words. Now, fifteen years later, her debut novel is scheduled to be released and her second book is in the works.
Christine has spent the better half of her life owning and working with horses, and these four legged companions often find their way into her stories. After all, no work of women’s fiction would be complete without a horse or two. 😉
She currently makes her home in the center of the world—no, really. Look at an atlas.
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