The Princess of Coldwater Flats

BOOK: The Princess of Coldwater Flats
8.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Nancy Bush



Published by Nancy Bush
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Copyright © Nancy Bush, 1994
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.



“…‌I’m just sayin’ that the ranch is tough work, girl,” Gil Whalen declared from his hospital bed. “No one woman can handle it by herself.”

Sammy Jo glared with mock fury at her gray-haired father. She loved him, but that didn’t mean she agreed with him. “Why don’t you just finish that with ‘a woman’s place is in the home’?”

“No need to be sassy. I’m just sayin’ you need help.”

“Because I’m a woman. You wouldn’t say that to a man.”

Gil sighed heavily. “Now, don’t go getting so all-fired prickly. Good Lord, girl, you gotta be a little sweeter.”

“Or I won’t get a man.”

Gil drew a deep breath, then wheezed slightly from the exertion. His lungs were slowly failing him and these bouts in the hospital were becoming more frequent. It worried Sammy Jo, but there wasn’t much she could do but humor him. However, in direct opposition to Gil’s declining health was his fret over Sammy Jo’s future. His obsession made her crazy. Lord, he was worse than an old hen.

“You’re going to be around a long time yet,” Sammy Jo told him.

“You have to make plans.” He yawned, scowled at the white identification band on his arm, then turned back to his favorite subject. “That’s why I’ve taken care of things.”

Sammy Jo’s head snapped to him her eyes narrowing. “How?”

He waved her away. Feebly. Sammy Jo swallowed. His emphysema was very real, and she knew he wouldn’t be around much longer. And though a part of her couldn’t help being annoyed with her irascible father, another part dreaded that day when he wouldn’t be there to harass and teach her. She’d learned everything she knew about ranching from him. He’d been father and mother to her since she was three.

“Get some sleep,” she said softly.

“You’ve been a good daughter, Sammy Jo. And a good rancher. I just want everything to be right for you.”

“I know.”

“That’s why I’m getting your future set.” He patted her hand and closed his eyes. “You’ll thank me one day, Sammy Jo, girl. You surely will…‌.”

Gazing fondly at his weathered face, Sammy Jo couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that not only would she
thank him, she might even rue the day.

And as it turned out…‌she was right.


Chapter One

Booted footsteps pounded across the rustic plankwood floor of Valley Federal’s central lobby. Heads turned. The row of tellers looked up from their cages and watched the determined young woman striding toward the archway on the north side of the bank. Lithe and tall, with sun-bleached blonde hair and jean-clad legs that never seemed to stop, she beelined for the manager’s corner, unaware of the small commotion created in her wake.

Valley Federal was Coldwater Flats’s one and only bank, and it boasted an interest rate supposedly lower than those other, bigger, national banks. It also suffered from bad loans since the town was a ranching and farming community and times were tough. They always seemed to be.

“I want to see Matt Durning,” she said icily to the new accounts clerk. The woman’s nameplate read,
Hi, I’m Donna. How can I help you?

“Well, hello, Sammy Jo,” Donna said, recognizing her instantly. Sammy Jo was a bit notorious in Coldwater Flats. “Now just sit yourself down, ‘cause Mr. Durning’s in a meeting.”

“Who with?”

“Well, honey, I don’t think that’s…‌Sammy Jo!”

Her calfskin cowboy boots stomped determinedly past Donna’s desk, scattering dust motes into the air-conditioned splendor of the bank. Sammy Jo felt no qualms about barging into Matt’s office. She was too burned to pay attention to anyone who stood in her way.

Those who knew her—and practically the whole town did—recognized the signs of her infamous temper. Her face was flushed and her green eyes sparkled with suppressed fury. She’d snapped her blonde hair into a ragged ponytail, but loose, broken strands flew around her face. Her blouse was denim, sleeves pushed up to her elbows. Dirt smudged one forearm.

“Damn it all, Matt,” she greeted the bank manager as she rounded the corner to his private alcove. Matt’s desk, a refurbished antique of mammoth proportions, sat squarely in front of huge floor-to-ceiling, paned windows. “What’s the meaning of this?” From a back pocket, Sammy Jo pulled out a rolled-up document and tossed it across the banker’s cluttered desk with disdain.

“Sammy Jo, you can’t just charge in here like this.”

“And you can’t take my property away from me, either!” she yelled right back. “I own Ridge Range Ranch. The Triple R is mine. My dad left it to me, damn it!”

“Gil also left a lot of unpaid bills.” Matt Durning smoothed his tie and glanced anxiously toward the only other occupant of the room. A man stood at the windows, his back to them, apparently oblivious to the interruption. Matt’s mouth compressed.

“Make an appointment, Sammy Jo,” he said in a low voice.

Sammy Jo flicked a glance at the stranger, then stared Matt down. “Two hundred thousand dollars in unpaid bills?” she demanded.

Matt sighed. Now, he liked Sammy Jo okay, but there was no denying she could be a real pain in the tail end sometimes. “No one’s paid on that mortgage for months. I’m sorry, but it’s the bank’s policy—”

“Don’t spout policy to me. You know I can run that ranch. Better than my dad did. I’ve got a few hospital bills to pay off, but I’m still standing.”

“Sammy Jo, honey, financially you’re not.” Matt couldn’t help a second glance to his other customer. “Maybe you ought to go back to rodeo-riding. Or check with that rich uncle of yours.”

Sammy Jo shivered with fury. That was a low-down, undeserved comment if she’d ever heard one. Matt, like everyone else in town, knew after Gil’s death Sammy Jo had been approached by her uncle Peter Whalen from Linn County. She’d never really known him; Gil and Peter hadn’t been on speaking terms. But when he’d come to the funeral to pay his respects, she’d been so hurt and broken that she’d been glad of the company. She’d forgotten all those rumors of bad blood between the brothers and embraced him with open arms.

It turned out Uncle Peter was a stingy opportunist who’d carried a grudge against Sammy Jo’s father ever since the day Gil Whalen married the prettiest woman in town. Good old Uncle Peter had never forgiven him, and the day Irene Whalen left her husband, Uncle Peter came to Coldwater Flats to laugh in his brother’s face. That had been the last time the two men had seen each other.

But Sammy Jo didn’t know any of that at the time Uncle Peter appeared. Well-spoken, well-dressed and plainly well-off, he’d thrown a line to Sammy Jo, hooked her and reeled her in before she knew what had happened. She almost lost the ranch to him right then and there. That’s what the old crook had been after. The Triple R. He’d promised her he’d pay off the mortgage. Sure, she could stay on. She was his only neice, wasn’t she?

Sammy Jo’s suspicions grew when Peter kept leaving her out of negotiations. She made an appointment with Matt Durning at Valley Federal and learned some very bitter truths. A few phone calls to “friends” of her uncle’s and she learned the whole story about the brothers’ feud. Gil had never told her. He’d tried to spare her again. Sammy Jo was pretty damn sure if one more man tried to spare her, she’d be penniless.

Matt was waiting for a response. He didn’t know the extent of Uncle Peter’s greed and deceit. He only saw the money. To him, Uncle Peter had been a godsend—one Sammy Jo had deliberately kicked in the rear end and bounced out of town.

“Oh, Mr. Durning, I’m so sorry!” Donna cried. She’d finally squeezed her plump shape out of the chair and had click-clacked her way to Matt’s office. “I tried to stop her.”

“It’s okay, Donna. Sammy Jo was just leaving.”

“The hell I am. I’m going to park it right here until you listen to me.” With that, Sammy Jo dropped into one of the wooden swivel chairs. A puff of dust rose from her jeans.

Matt closed his eyes. The man at the window hadn’t complained about the interruption, but if Sammy Jo didn’t stop raising holy hell soon, Matt could lose the one customer he was desperate to keep. “Check with my secretary, Glenda, and make an appointment, Sammy Jo.” He waved away Donna who pursed her lips at Sammy Jo and puffed out of the office.

“I’m not going to lose my ranch,” she said stubbornly.

The man at the window shifted his weight. He seemed to be concentrating solely on the sun-baked central Oregon countryside beyond but Matt had the feeling he was keyed in to this conversation. He frowned. He’d like to strangle Sammy Jo for this!

“I’m in a very important meeting,” he told her warningly.

“Matt, you’re going to have one hell of a time with evicting me off my rightful property. Now, I came here at your summons.” Wrinkling her nose, she glared at the rolled-up paper as if it gave off an offending smell. “The way I see it, that’s nothing less than a declaration of war between me and Valley Federal.”

“Why don’t you help the young lady, Matt?” the man by the window suggested without turning around. “I can wait.”

Matt gnashed his teeth. He stared at Sammy Jo. There was no denying she was a natural beauty, but that sure didn’t make up for how headstrong she was. She couldn’t accept the fact that her father had run the ranch’s finances into the ground. Almost purposely so, since he’d been sick, or so it seemed to Matt. The old man had invested in every losing venture that had come Coldwater Flats’s way the past few years, and the ranch was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. It was a shame, really, because Sammy Jo was a good rancher.

BOOK: The Princess of Coldwater Flats
8.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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