The afternoon sun was on its downward drift toward the
western horizon, throwing its bright light across a vast
Montana sky ribboned with wispy mare's-tail clouds. Springtime
cloaked the wide plains with its fresh green hues and
scented the air with the raw vigor of new life, all sharp and
Jessy Calder breathed in its wild fragrance as she stepped
out of the pickup's passenger side. Emblazoned on the
truck's door panel was an enlarged version of the Triple C
brand. Below it, block letters spelled out the name Calder
There was little about Jessy Calder that would suggest to
an outsider that she was the current head of a ranch that
numbered over a million acres within its boundary fences. As
usual, the widow of Chase Calder's only son was dressed in
cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a brown Stetson hat. A
smoothly tailored white blouse was the only exception to
typical working attire.
A feathering of lines around her eyes and mouth revealed
that she had passed the fifty mark a few years ago, but she
had yet to lose her lean, boyish figure. And the silvering of
gray in her hair had only the effect of lightening its once
Without a doubt, Jessy Calder was a handsome woman,
indelibly stamped with an aura of calm competence. Much
more subtle was the air of authority that emanated from her
Turning, Jessy reached into the truck's cab and collected
the western-cut suede jacket lying on the front seat, then
closed the passenger door. The freewheeling whine of a semi
on the interstate drew her eye to the divided highway. Almost
automatically her glance leaped beyond it to the sweep of
far-reaching plains that stretched north.
It was a big land, spreading beneath an even bigger sky.
Strangers saw monotony in its seeming flatness without discerning
its rippling muscles. But Jessy had been born and
raised on these lonely, rugged plains. She knew the riches
they possessed, and she also knew how harsh and unforgiving
they could be.
This was a land that bent to no man's will for long. But
for those who chose to live with it, there was a bounty to be
had. The continued existence of the Triple C Ranch was
proof of that.
Almost with regret, she pulled her gaze away from the
wide land and scanned the collection of vehicles parked in
the motel's paved lot. The absence of a particular one cut a
puzzled crease in her forehead as she joined the tall, lanky
cowboy waiting for her at the curb.
He went by the name of Laredo Smith, although Jessy
had long known that wasn't his real name, just as she knew
he was a man with a past that wouldn't bear scrutiny. Yet she
had never attempted to learn his true identity. On the Triple C,
people still lived by the codes of the Old West. Foremost among
them was the unwritten rule that a man was judged by what
he did, not what he had done. And Laredo Smith had proved
his loyalty and worth years ago. More than that, she loved the
man, something that still slightly amazed her, especially when
she recalled how certain she had been that her late husband
was the only man she would ever love.
"I don't see Trey's pickup," she said to Laredo, referring
to her twenty-four-year-old son and the Triple C heir. "He
left the ranch before we did. I thought for sure he'd be here
A smile lit Laredo's blue eyes, the twinkle in them softly
chiding. "Tank Willis and Johnny Taylor rode with him.
Judging from the tent and sleeping bags I saw piled in the
back of Trey's truck, I'm guessing they plan on setting up
camp at the fairgrounds. I don't imagine either Johnny or
Tank favor the idea of wasting money on a place to sleep
when they don't plan on doing much of that this weekend."
"That doesn't exactly surprise me," Jessy said with a wry
"I didn't think it would," Laredo replied easily. "After all,
can you think of a better time or place for a bunch of young
studs to roar and paw the ground than at the famous Cowboy's
Mardi Gras?" Tucking a hand under her arm, he leaned
close and whispered near her ear, "Maybe an old stud, too."
Jessy laughed as she was meant to do, but not without a
little curl of anticipation at the veiled suggestion in his
A Cowboy's Mardi Gras was the nickname the locals had
attached to the annual Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, traditionally
held on the third weekend in May. The three-day
event was part auction and part rodeo. Owners from across
the country brought their rough stock, both broncs and bulls,
to Miles City; riders, many of them area cowboys, bucked
them out of the chute. Afterward, the animal was auctioned
off; those that were rank-cowboy vernacular for bucking
hard-were usually sold to rodeo stock contractors for high
dollar. The rest went for a considerably cheaper price.
The chance for local cowboys to win prize money in the
rodeo arena was a definite draw, and the other festivities held
in conjunction with the sale, a parade and street dances
among them, doubled its allure. With spring in the air and a
long, cold winter behind them, people came from far and
wide to cut loose and party, swelling the population of Miles
City to twice its size or more.
A couple in their mid-fifties was at the registration desk
when Jessy and Laredo entered the motel lobby. With a trace
of impatience the man demanded, "Can't you at least check
with some of the other motels and find out if they have a
"Don't need to," the clerk replied. "There isn't a single
room to be had in Miles City. In fact, you'll probably have to
go a good ways down the road before you'll find a vacancy."
The telephone rang, harshly punctuating his statement. The
clerk reached for it, dismissing the pair with a rueful but definite,
"Sorry." His glance skipped past them to Jessy. "Be
right with you, Ms. Calder."
When the frustrated and travel-weary couple moved away
from the counter, Jessy took their place while Laredo shifted
to one side, propping an elbow on the counter and half-turning
to keep an eye on the lobby entrance. With the phone call
handled, the clerk laid a registration form and pen in front of
"By any chance has my son checked in yet?" she asked.
"I'll register for him, then." Jessy proceeded to fill out the
form, pausing only to nod in Laredo's direction. "Laredo
will be sharing the room with him, so he'll need a key," she
said, then reminded the clerk, "Our reservations called for
"That's what you've got," he assured her after checking
the computer, then busying himself with programming the
electronic key cards. "Did you hear that the weather forecast
calls for clear skies all weekend? Those old-timers who claim
it always rains on the Bucking Horse Sale are going to be
wrong this year."
A crooked smile lifted one corner of Jessy's wide lips.
"You're talking to a rancher. As dry as it's been this spring, I
wish it was pouring buckets."
"Next year it probably will be." The man shrugged with a
touch of resignation.
By the time the check-in process was complete, the lobby
was aswirl with new arrivals waiting to register and clutches
of guests waiting to be joined by a missing member of their
party prior to leaving the motel. A dark-eyed blonde with mascara-thickened
lashes separated herself from one of the latter
groups and sailed across the lobby to intercept Jessy and
Laredo. Jessy recognized the eighteen-year-old girl instantly
as Kelly Ramsey, the daughter of a veteran Triple C ranch
hand and a direct descendent of one of the original cowboys
to work for the brand.
"Hi, Jessy. Hi, Laredo." Her greeting was breezy and familiar.
"No rain. Can you believe it? Although heaven
knows we need some," she added hurriedly, as if belatedly
remembering whom she was addressing.
"That's true," Jessy murmured, casting a glance over the
girl's attire. A short tank top bared her middle, and a pair of
low-riding jeans with frayed hems hugged her hips and thighs
like a drumskin. And the faded jeans jacket she wore did a
poor job of providing any show of modesty. But Jessy withheld
any comment on Kelly's attire, remembering too well the
many arguments over clothes she'd had with her daughter,
Laura, Trey's twin sister, during her teen years.
Laredo showed no such restraint, grinning his admonishment.
"You're liable to catch cold in that getup tonight."
Kelly laughed, unconcerned. "That's what Daddy said."
Her glance quickly darted around and behind them in a
searching manner. "Isn't Trey with you?"
"No. He left the ranch before we did," Jessy replied.
"Oh." Disappointment gave the curve of her mouth a
downward turn, but only momentarily. Forcing a brightness
into her expression, she said, "I'm sure I'll see him at the fairgrounds.
We're headed that way now. Catch you later."
She flashed them a parting wave and scooted back to her
family. Jessy raised an acknowledging hand to the Ramseys,
a gesture they returned before moving en masse toward the
door. But Jessy's attention remained on Kelly.
"She has her sights set on Trey, doesn't she," she murmured
"Are you just discovering that?" His smile was rich with
"You aren't surprised at all." She shook her head in mild
dismay at this realization. "Sometimes I think you know
more about what's happening on the Triple C than I do."
"That's because you're too busy running it to listen to all
the gossip that comes through the range telegraph. Besides,
there isn't a single woman in five hundred miles who wouldn't
like to throw her loop around your son."
"I just hope he makes the right choice when the time
comes." And she hoped it wouldn't be soon. But Jessy knew
those decisions weren't hers to make.
"You aren't worried that he'll get fooled into marrying
some gold-digger, are you?" Laredo chided. "Don't forget,
Trey learned all about feminine wiles from his sister. At one
time or another he saw Laura use every trick in her arsenal
on some poor, unsuspecting male. When it comes to women,
that boy is much wiser than his years."
"True," Jessy agreed. "Did I tell you Laura called last
"No. But you better tell me about it outside," Laredo suggested
as more people entered the hotel, familiar faces
among them. "This place is getting busier than a bar on Saturday
night. We'd better get our bags out of the pickup and
up to our rooms before we get trapped in the lobby."
"It isn't that bad." But Jessy didn't object when he steered
her through the stream and out the door, giving her only
enough time to exchange nods and brief hellos with those
Moving to her right shoulder, Laredo asked, "So how's
the new bride doing?"
"Laura's doing well, and still sounding very much like a
bride. Nearly every other sentence started with `Sebastian
said' or `Sebastian suggested.'"
"I think it's called love," he teased as they crossed to the
Jessy ignored the playful gibe. "I'm just glad she's happy.
I only wish that she lived closer. England is half a continent
and an ocean away."
"You and Cat both are dealing with an empty nest, aren't
you?" Laredo remarked astutely. Cat was Jessy's sister-in-law,
Catherine Calder Echohawk. Widowed almost a year
ago, Cat had moved back to the Triple C to look after her
aging father, Chase Calder. "First your Laura gets married in
November. Then her Quint ties the knot in April. Now you're
wondering if Trey will be next." As he reached into the truck
bed for his duffel bag, he looked up and paused, sliding a dry
glance at Jessy. "Speak of the devil."
With a nod of his head, Laredo directed her attention to
the pickup just pulling into the motel lot. Three cowboys sat
shoulder to shoulder in the cab, their faces shadowed by the
hats they wore and the dim interior. But Jessy easily picked
out her son from the others even before they piled out of the
pickup after it pulled up at the motel entrance.
Standing six feet, three inches, he was easily taller than
the average man, wide in the shoulders and chest, yet youthfully
lean and supple, with a rider's looseness about him.
One look at his deep-set eyes and rawboned face and there
was no doubt he was a Calder. That hard vitality was like a
At his birth, Jessy had proudly named him Chase Benteen
Calder after his grandfather and the family patriarch. His
great-great-grandfather had carried the same name, the Calder who
had formed the Triple C Ranch more than a century and a
quarter ago. Within weeks of his namesake's birth, the baby
was dubbed "Trey Spot," which was soon shortened. He'd
been called Trey ever since.
As Trey swung his long frame toward Jessy, he was hailed
by Kelly Ramsey. "Mind if I ride with you to the fairgrounds,
Laredo was quick to detect the wary tensing of Trey's
body, but the smile was easy, without the coolness of rejection.
"Sorry. There's no room. I've got Tank and Johnny with me."
His response was clearly not the one she wanted to hear.
She wavered for an instant, as if assessing the odds of
changing his mind, then showed some wisdom and accepted
his answer with good grace.
"No problem," she said, already taking the first retreating
steps back to the Ramseys' double-cab pickup. "I'll see you
Trey was quick to turn away and shoot a glance at Laredo.
It was one of those man-to-man looks that conveyed his utter
lack of interest in the girl and his relief at avoiding her company.
Laredo dipped his head down, hiding a smile, as Trey
loped over to them.
"Did you two just drive in?" he asked when he joined
"We've been here long enough to check in." Jessy eyed
her tall, strapping son with a mixture of affection and quiet
"I guess that means all I have to do is pick up a key." His
grin had a reckless and carefree quality to it that spoke of his
When Trey reached over and took the suitcase from Jessy,
she surrendered it without objection-this from a woman who
staunchly believed everyone should pull his or her own
weight, making no exceptions for either status or sex. But
here was a son helping his mother, not an ordinary ranch
hand carrying his boss's luggage.
Trey made a quick visual check of the truck bed, verifying
that there were no more bags to be retrieved. "Gramps
decided to stay home, did he?"
"Like he said," Laredo answered, "someone needed to
stay behind and keep an eye on things at the ranch." He made
no mention of the comment Chase Calder had added, saying
matter-of-factly, "There's not much point in me going, anyway.
All my contemporaries are either in rest homes or the
"As crowded and noisy as it's likely to be, I couldn't
imagine Gramps coming, but I don't put anything past him."
Mixed in with the easy affection in Trey's voice was a deep
note of respect for his grandfather.
It was hardly surprising. Following his father's death when
Trey was barely more than a toddler, Chase had stepped in
to fill the role. At an early age, Trey had learned from his
grandfather that as a Calder, he would be held to a higher
standard. Like it or not, he would be expected to work longer,
be smarter, and fight rougher than anyone else. No favor
would be shown to him, no concessions made, and no special
privileges granted because he was the son and heir. On
the contrary, the reverse would be true. During his growing-up
years, Trey was often assigned the dirtiest and hardest jobs,
the rankest horses in the string, and the longest hours. Any
problems he encountered along the way were his to solve. If
he found himself in trouble, he was expected to fight his way
out of it with his fists or his wits.
Trey had never really known the fine line his mother and
grandfather had walked to push him as hard as they dared
without pushing too far and breaking his spirit. It was all
preparation for the day when he would take control of the
It had been no easy job to carve out a ranch the size of
some eastern states back in the days of the Old West, and in
these modern times, it would be no easy job to keep it. Some
in Trey's place might have shrunk from the pressure of that
job, but he had always viewed it as a challenge he was eager
to tackle. Maybe that was due to the way Chase had put it to
him, or the belief he sensed that his mother and grandfather
had in him that he could do it.
Excerpted from "Calder Storm" by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 2007 by Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.