Betsy Swanson leaned against the window of the train, and stared out at the quickly passing grassland.
“Betsy, do you think Grandma will recognize us?” Hannah gazed up at her sister.
“Oh I’m sure she will. It’s been only a year since she saw us last.”
Sam came down the aisle towards his sisters and sat across from them. He was silent for a minute or so before he spoke. “Do you think that maybe Levi is in Fresno? He may be there ’cause he knows places around there. Maybe he’s even working on the ranch.”
“Sam, you are totally crazy. In all the places in the world why would he be on the ranch?”
Levi nudged his horse into a gallop. The brown gelding dashed toward the herd of runaway steers. Several other hands were on the other side of the cattle. It had been six weeks since Levi had been shot. Levi had found out that the daughter Mitch had mentioned was a sister he hadn’t even met. Strangely, Chad didn’t pester Levi to give them his name. He had been given a nickname that most people believed was his real name—Ryder.
Levi swung around. “Yeah, what is it?”
“Boss wants you back at the ranch.”
“All right, I’m going.” With that Levi started toward the ranch wondering what Mitch wanted.
”Ryder, I want you to go into town and escort my family back to the ranch with Chad. You know with his job and all he might be called away at any moment.” Mitch turned away and walked toward the house. He gave no room for Levi to try to back out of the job.
Levi arrived at the train station just as the train pulled up. Chad was there waiting with a buckboard. He dismounted and went to stand beside Chad.
There they are. My family running towards Chad. Well the children are, anyway.
”Uncle Chad, it is so great to see you again,” Betsy exclaimed.
“Chad!” Katherine gave Chad a hug. She saw the sheriff badge on Chad’s vest. “Oh, Chad, Mother never mentioned you were sheriff.”
“Some sheriff.” Levi muttered under his breath. He still hadn’t really forgiven Chad for shooting at him, although he had seen a picture of Ty Marshen and they did look a lot alike.
Ryan Cunnings and Sam were coming with the luggage behind Katherine and the girls.
“Good to see you again, Ryan.” Chad warmly greeted his brother-in-law.
“Likewise Chad.” Ryan returned the greeting.
“Sam, you’ve grown a lot. Maybe Mitch will put you out on the range with the other hands, and we’ll get free work from you.” Chad ruffled Sam’s hair, and Levi laughed inwardly. He was the only one that knew that Sam hated having his hair ruffled by grownups.
“Where’s your rig, Chad? We’ll put the luggage in,” Ryan asked. Clearly the luggage was heavy.
“Ryder,help with the luggage. Everybody, this is Ryder. He’s one of the ranch hands.”
On the way to the ranch, a rider caught up to the buckboard. “Sheriff, there’s a fight in town. If I were you, I’d get back to town as soon as possible.”
“All right, I’ll start heading to town. Ryder, make sure the family gets back to the ranch.” Chad rode after the man.
The group rode quietly for a few minutes. Than Sam cleared his throat and said,” We have a missing brother. Did you know that?”
“Mitch mentioned it.”
“Well, his name is Levi. He’s sixteen and—”
“Sam,” Ryan intervened. “You can talk to Ryder later.”
“Pa, why can’t I talk to him know?”
“Because I said so,” Ryan said sternly
Levi could tell by the tone of Sam’s voice that he was upset about being told to be quiet, and strangely he felt sympathetic.
The buggy pulled up to the yard, and door of the house opened. Mitch, Andi, and Mrs. Carter ran out of the house.
“Mother, it’s so wonderful to see you again.”
“Grandma, Grandma.” Hannah wriggled up beside her grandma and gave her a hug.
“Sam, you’ve grown so much.”
“Uh, thank you.”
That night, one of the ranch hands cut his hand, and Levi was sent to the ranch house kitchen to get some herbs. While in the kitchen he overheard his ma and Ryan talking to Mitch, Chad, and his grandmother. To his surprise they were talking to him.
“Mother, I just don’t know what to do. Levi has been gone for years. What if he never comes back?” Kate started to cry.
Levi grabbed the herbs out of the medicine cabinet and ran out the door. He couldn’t stand to hear his mother cry.
The family continued their conversation oblivious to have been overheard. “Dear, I’m sure he’ll come back.” Elizabeth tried to comfort her oldest daughter.
“That is if he hasn’t already,” Mitch mumbled under his breath.
“What was that you said Mitch?” Ryan asked.
“Oh, uh, nothing, just an idea.”
The next day Mitch had to pick up supplies up in town. He stopped in at the sheriff’s office to talk to Chad. He pulled up a seat across from Chad’s desk and sat down. “Chad, have you noticed anything different about Ryder?”
“Like what? That he glares at me every time he sees me?”
“No, not that he sees you as a man who saw him as a criminal and shot him, but that he knows his way around the ranch.”
“Mitch, he’s been here for six weeks,” Chad said skeptically, not sure of the point Mitch was trying to make.
“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying he knows his way around the ranch closer to the house.”
“So? Shouldn’t know his way around the ranch yet? I don’t get what you are trying to say.”
“I think Ryder is Levi.” Mitch stared across the desk at Chad.
“You’re crazy. Levi wouldn’t come here . . . or would he?”
“Remember when he wouldn’t give us his name? And he knew a lot of the names of the hands when most of them use nicknames.”
“Okay, little brother. You could be right, but how do we figure out that he’s Levi? We can’t go up to him and ask him. We have to be careful.”
Mitch got a twinkle in his eye. “What makes you think I’m going to include you?”
Chad raised his eye brows and crossed his arms.
“I’m kidding,” Mitch hastened to say.
Chad grinned and asked the question that was strong on his mind. “So, what’s the plan to catch our runaway nephew?
The next day Chad was home for the afternoon. Earlier that day Mitch had suggested
to Hannah that perhaps she could go riding Patches that afternoon.
“Uncle Mitch, it’s after lunch. Can I ride Patches now?”
“Sure thing, honey. I’ll get one of the hands to get him saddled up for you.”
Mitch’s plan was to have Ryder—or Levi, or whoever he was—go to the barn and get Patches. If he was Ryder he wouldn’t know what horse was Patches. He had never been in the barn where Patches was kept. If he was Levi, he would know what horse was Patches.
Walking over to where the ranch hands were finishing their noonday meal. Mitch motioned Ryder over to where he was standing.
“Yeah, boss, what do ya want?”
“My niece wants to ride Patches. Please saddle him up for her.”
Ryder never hesitated. He walked towards the family barn without a question.
Mitch grinned to himself. This was working out just perfectly.