Calico (paperback) by Dorien Grey

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ISBN: 9781945447662
Pages: 236

It seemed like a simple job—guide Josh and Sarah to Bow Ridge to live with their aunt until they reached their 18th birthday. It was what their aunt Rebecca wanted, and the best choice Calico Ramsey thought he could make.

But someone wants them dead, which makes no sense to Calico. Neither do the feelings aroused by the nearness of the handsome young man from Chicago—feelings that seem to be returned.


Calico Ramsay was tired, and hungry, and ready for the day to end. So, when he topped the small rise and looked down onto the cluster of ranch buildings spread out before him, yellow lights just beginning to appear in the windows, he heaved a deep sigh of relief and sat up tall, stretching his shoulders back and lifting his head to relieve the tension in his muscles.

A sudden lightning storm the night before had stampeded the cattle on the east range. Calico had spent the entire day with the hands, rounding up as many strays as they could find. Ten were still unaccounted for, so the rest of the men had camped out in the area and would find the remaining strays the next day.

He bedded his horse and entered the bunkhouse just after dark to find Sven, the cook, muttering and cursing over a burnt supper of beef and beans. Calico was too hungry and tired to care.

Dinner finished, he went over to the main house to check in with the ranch owner—the man he called Uncle Dan, who had been his unofficial guardian since Calico was twelve. The house was dark, which told him he would find Dan in his office, a small shed-like building a few dozen feet from the main house. He found him with his feet up on the battered table that served as his desk, reading a letter.

At sixty-five, Dan Overholt was still a man to be reckoned with, though his massive frame had begun to settle around his middle. He was totally bald in the center of his head, but his sunburned scalp was surrounded by a wild shock of thick white hair; when Calico was a boy, he’d always thought it looked like mashed potatoes around a steak.

Dan looked up as Calico entered, grunted a greeting and laid the letter aside to light up a huge warped cigar.

“Get ’em all?” he asked, after blowing an enormous cloud of smoke into the room.

“All but ten, ’s far as we can tell. Tim and the boys camped out up near the ridge. They’ll find ’em in the morning.”

Dan shifted his cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other and nodded. He motioned Calico to a chair then picked up the letter.

“You know I had a brother,” he said, removing the cigar from his mouth and staring at the glowing end, as if talking to it rather than to Calico. It was a habit he had whenever he had something really serious to talk about.

“I heard ya mention him, once or twice.”

“Yeah. Well, we never did get along all that good. He married a rich woman when we was barely more than kids, and she and me didn’t get on no way. So I came out West and he stayed in Chicago and got even richer, and we just sort of drifted apart.” Dan took another long draw from his cigar. “By the time his wife died some years back, we’d pretty much lost track of one another.” He paused to pick a bit of tobacco from his bottom lip. “Anyway, now he’s dead, too.”

Calico, not knowing exactly what to say, stared at his boots.

After a moment, Dan continued. “Him and his wife had two kids—both girls. I never seen either one of ’em. But they both growed up and got married; one of ’em moved out here to Colorado somewheres, and the other married a city feller and stayed in Chicago. The Chicago one, she had two kids, twins, just about the time I runned into you. Then, ’bout six years ago, she and her husband was killed in a fire, and the twins was orphaned. I never knew a thing about any of it, ’cept what this lawyer feller tells me in this here letter.”

Calico was both surprised and touched by the unfamiliar tone of regret in the older man’s voice. Noting his cigar had gone out, Dan re-lit it before continuing.

“They’d be about seventeen now, I reckon. Almost growed up, but by law they got to have a guardian at least till they’re eighteen.”

He paused again, staring at the tip of his cigar. Calico didn’t think he expected him to say anything, so he remained silent.

“I get the idea there was something peculiar about that fire that killed their folks. Lawyer didn’t come right out and say anything, mind, but…” Apparently suddenly aware Calico was staring at him, Dan took one last puff on the cigar and stubbed it out on a rock paperweight. “Anyways, my brother took on the raising of the kids and now he’s dead. Lawyer says the kids get all the money, ’cept for a little bit to the Colorado daughter, which is fine with me, but, well, my brother, he asked that I take the kids till they’re of age.” He looked straight at Calico and shook his head in wonderment. “Hell, I don’t know nothin’ about raisin’ kids.”

Calico gave his adopted uncle a broad grin. “Well, if they’re seventeen, they’re ’bout ready to fend for themselves. Shouldn’t be much raisin’ involved. ’Sides, you didn’t exactly do too bad with me, if I do say so myself.”

For the first time since Calico had entered the office, Dan’s solemn air broke, and he could see him relax.

“Yeah, but that was different—you was a boy, and a farm boy at that. If your folks hadn’t o’ got killed, you’d o’ still turned out okay. But these two’s different. Out here, by the time you’re eighteen, you’re on your own. But rich city kids is different. One’s a boy, true, but like I say, they’re city kids. What the hell do they know about ranchin’?”

“Well, I expect they could learn, don’t you?”

Dan sighed, his entire huge frame rising and falling with the motion. “I expect they’ll have to.”

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