Chapter One

Green eyes scanned the great plains of the Montana/Dakota territory. Nothing could be seen for miles and miles. It was just like she remembered it. Never endless, dry, and incredibly hot.

"Madeline," said a strict voice. "Come back here this instant."

Madeline looked towards the voice. It was old, proper Mrs. Anderson, her tutor. She stood tall and proud next to the owner of the small shop where they were getting supplies that her mother requested before they came home. Madeline let go from leaning on the wooden railing and walked across the wooden floor to her tutor.

"Yes, Mrs. Anderson," she said politely.

"Go to the cart," she said. "We are leaving soon."

"Yes, ma'am," Madeline replied with a tiny nod. She walked away, went down the wooden steps and onto the dirt. The carriage was small and unsophisticated according to Anderson. But it didn't bother her.

Ten minutes later, Mrs. Anderson joined Madeline in the carriage, and they were off, heading towards the home that Madeline hadn't seen for the past ten years.

"I can't stand these people," Mrs. Anderson said. "Look at how those guys leered at us. No manners at all. You will not be able to find a suitable husband here."

Madeline quietly sighed and rolled her eyes. That was a conversation she heard a million times already. "I'm sure I will find a suitable husband here," she said, playing along.

"I'm sure you will," replied Mrs. Anderson. "One that is handsome, wealthy…"

Madeline tuned her out and stared out the small carriage window. She did not want to marry, have a man hold her down. She was still young in her opinion. She still wanted to experience things. "You are a girl ahead of your time," said an old friend of hers once. Besides, she wanted to marry for love, not for wealth.

At the age of eight, her mother, against her father's wishes, sent her to Maine to Mrs. Anderson. She was there to learn how to become a lady. Madeline hated Maine. Sure it was nice with its country atmosphere, but the Great Plains was her true home.

She hated Anderson. "Do this, do that," was all she was ever told. Anderson would criticize her everyday and night. "You are not standing up straight enough." Or, "You are not acting lady like. Flirt, be proper, find a wealthy husband."

Madeline had thought of running away many times before, but stayed for her Pa, not her mother. Her Pa wouldn't have wanted her to quit so easily.

Lazily, but excitedly, she watched as the cart rode by ranchers herding cattle. Ranchers looked at them curiously. Anderson was silently sleeping. Madeline's head pricked up when she saw the ranch house and barn in the distance.

"We're almost there," Madeline said excitedly. "I'm almost home."

The carriage pulled up to the house and Madeline hurried out the door. "Madeline," Mrs. Anderson yelled. "Walk right."

She ignored her. She ran up the wooden porch. "Pa!" she called as she ran into the house. "Pa!"

"Madeline," said a voice that she hadn't heard in a long time. "Hush, Madeline."

Madeline turned around and saw her mother, Michelle Jones, standing in the parlor.

"Mother," Madeline said.

"Come here, child," her mother beckoned her.

Madeline quietly walked over to her mother, and surprisingly, her mother hugged her. She then held her at arm's length, examining her. She took in her daughter's dusty blue dress. He brown hair disarrayed, escaping from her bonnet. Her cheeks tinted a red color from the heat. "You turned out beautiful," she said.

"Thank you, mother," Madeline automatically replied.

Her mother looked behind her and smiled. She let go of her daughter. "Elizabeth Anderson," she said. "My dear friend, it's been awhile."

Anderson smiled. "It has been." They hugged.

"Madeline has turned out beautifully."

Anderson snorted. "Hardly, but she has her moments."

"I'm disappointed that she didn't come home without a future son in law," her mother said.

Madeline glared. "Yes, yes," Anderson said. "She certainly had many chances."

"Mother," said Madeline, wanting to change the topic and see her father. "Where is Pa?"

"He is at the stable," she said.

"May I go find him?"

"Why don't you join me and Elizabeth for some tea?"

"Mother," Madeline said calmly, trying not to lose her patience. "I haven't see Pa for ten years. I would like to see him."

"Hurry back," her mother said. "We have guests coming over later to welcome you home."

"Guests?" she asked curiously.

"Go, go," her mother shooed her. "Go see your father. Try not to get too dirty."

Madeline looked at her mother curiously, but then she became suspicious. What was her mother planning? What was the deal with that twinkle in her eye? She then quickly, but gracefully left, not wanting to deal with her mother or Mrs. Anderson right now.

She walked out of the parlor and into the small kitchen. She quickly looked around, remembering all the fun times she had in there with her family. The dinner later tonight would be held in the formal dining room, next to the parlor. She walked out the back door.

Everything was how she remembered it. There were the stables, holding the many horses they had. There was the rancher bunk house, where the workers stay in. And of course, there were the cattle, grazing the ten acres of pasture.

"PA!" she yelled. The noise of a barking dog coming from the stables answered her.

Madeline headed towards the stables, running as fast as she could in her dress. Her bonnet fell off and her curled hair tumbled down her back. She entered the stables and the smell horses were strong. Suddenly, she found a dog at her feet, barking and wagging its tail.

"Down, Buck," said a deep male voice.

Madeline quickly snapped her head up from looking at the dog. She recognized that voice, even if she hadn't heard it in ten years. Her Pa, Bill Jones, hadn't changed that much since the last time she saw him. He was still tall and board shouldered. His eyes were a darker blue than usual. Gray hair mixed in his dark brown hair and his face was withered with age and experience. "Pa…"

The man quickly looked her over and recognition in his eyes. "Maddie."

"Pa!" she said as she ran to him, throwing herself into a great big hug with him.

"Maddie, maddie," he said, hugging her back and then took her face into his big hands. "Is this really my little girl?"

"Yes, Pa," she said, tears in her eyes.

"Hush, don't cry," he said, with tears in his eyes too. She nodded her head. "I'm so happy to see you. How did Maine treat you?"

"It was somewhat horrible," she answered. "I really missed you and the ranch a lot."

"Well, I and the ranch missed you a lot too," he said, putting his arm around her shoulders and started walking out the stables. The dog, Buck, was following them. "My little girl is a lady now."

Madeline scrunched her nose in disgust. "Pa, please don't start that too."

"What! It's true. Look at ya, all grown up."

"Mother says we are having guests over for dinner," Madeline said, changing the subject. "Who is coming?"

Bill's face quickly went from happy to somber. "You're a lady now. You're all grown up and ready to start your own family."

Madeline quickly pulled away from his arm. "Please, not you too."

He shook his head. "It was all your Ma's idea. I don't agree with it, but she had a few good points. It's time for ya to act all grown up."

"Who's coming?"

He shrugged. "A few of her friends from the town…one is currently looking for a wife."

"Oh Pa, I don't like this. I want to find my own husband when I'm ready."

Her Pa pulled her into a hug. "I know, honey," he said soothingly. "I know."

They stayed like that for a few moments, Bill trying to comfort his only child and Madeline trying to seek love and protection from him. Finally, they pulled away from each other.

Bill gave her a big smile. "There's someone who would like to see ya again," he said, before leading her towards the rancher bunk house.