The sky was just beginning to lighten and there were birds singing when Kate Tucker got up at four- thirty on a May morning, as she did every day. A tall, leggy blonde, she unwound herself from the sheets, and went to get a cup of coffee. Her days were long and started early, working on her father’s ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. They had moved there from Texas thirty- eight years before, when she was four years old. Her mother had died the year before, a few months after her youngest sister, Caroline, was born. Her father was a ranch hand. He had decided to come to California with his meager savings, his truck, and his three little girls, Kate, Gemma, who was a year younger than Kate, and Caroline, who was one.
Jimmy Tucker, JT, had heard about the Santa Ynez Valley, and it sounded like heaven to him. He had gotten a job on a modest but respected ranch, and had brought his experience and skill from Texas. He was only twenty-six years old then, and quickly proved his worth to the ranch owner who had given him a chance, and a cabin for him and his three little girls to live in. The foreman’s wife ran her own daycare in town, and had given Jimmy a “family discount” for his girls. And her teenage daughters sometimes babysat for him when he had to work at night.
It had been rugged at first trying to make ends meet. There was never any money for anything extra. He got their clothes in the hand-me-down basket at their church, and some of the other ranch hands’ wives gave him whatever their children had outgrown. He managed to feed and house his daughters, and worked hard at his job. He saved every penny he could, thinking of the future. Jimmy Tucker was a man with dreams, and the rancher he worked for thought he would go far. He had a fire in his belly like few men his boss had known.
Kate didn’t remember the hard times in the beginning, and neither did her sisters. When the foreman retired four years after they’d arrived, JT was made foreman, at thirty, and ran the ranch. And when the owner died ten years later, he left a decent sized piece of land to Jimmy, which he had added to over the years. Now, at sixty-four, Jimmy owned ten thousand acres, and the most successful ranch in the Valley. They raised cattle, bred horses, and had a small dairy. And at forty-two, Kate helped him run it. She had grown up on a horse and in her father’s shadow.
Jimmy couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world, nor could Kate. She had everything she wanted right here, a beautiful place, a job she loved, and she liked working with her father, though he wasn’t easy. He was larger than life, and had a powerful personality. He valued what she did for him, but rarely said so. He was a man of few words, but he knew how to run a ranch better than anyone in the county, and had taught her everything she knew. They had thirty-five employees on the ranch, who respected her just as they did JT.
Pleasing him was all-important to her, but earning his praise wasn’t easy. He rarely acknowledged how hard she worked. She was an important part of his operation, and she knew it. She was a born country girl, unlike both her younger sisters, who had fled, Gemma at eighteen to L.A., and Caroline for college.
Caroline was a beautiful blonde, smaller than her two older sisters. She was thirty-nine, three years younger than Kate, married, and had two children. Neither Kate nor Gemma was married. Caroline had gone to UC Berkeley to get a teaching degree, and stayed on to get a master’s in English literature. She’d started writing young adult books in grad school to make ends meet, while working as a teacher and a waitress. She made a respectable living now with her books.
It was the life Caroline had longed for growing up and her father and sisters had never understood. She had an unquenchable thirst for books, knowledge, and culture, none of which was available in the Valley, or not to the degree she wanted. She read everything she could lay hands on, while Kate had a natural instinct for horses and learned everything she could about the ranch. All Gemma wanted was to leave and go to Hollywood. They each had their own passions and Caroline’s were totally foreign to her sisters. It set her apart from her family, and made her feel like a stranger in their midst from the time she was very young. She learned to read at five and had been a voracious reader ever since. She dreamed of doing and seeing the things she read about, and of writing herself.
Now at thirty-nine, she lived in Marin County outside San Francisco, with her husband, Peter, and their two children. She had met Peter at Berkeley when she was in college and he was in business school. He was five years older, from a family with money. Peter had grown up with all the cultural advantages she had missed. He had made a considerable fortune of his own in venture capital. Caroline and Peter were the typical successful Marin County couple. He drove a Porsche, she drove a Mercedes station wagon. They had a handsome house and two bright, nice kids who went to private schools. Their daughter, Morgan, was fifteen, and Billy was eleven. Caroline loved their life, her work, and their marriage.
She had snuck away while her father wasn’t looking. Gemma, his middle child, had always been the star in his eyes, and Kate, the oldest, was the daughter he counted on to back him, and work with him on the ranch. Caroline never gave him a hard time about anything. He and Gemma fought constantly, but he loved and respected her all the more for it. While he and Gemma were battling, Caroline just quietly slipped away to the life she had fantasized about for years. She had everything she wanted now, a solid marriage, great kids, a pretty house. She was involved with the ballet, the film festival in Marin, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and a career she enjoyed. She was still writing young adult books, and had won the coveted Printz Award, the most prestigious award for books for younger readers.
She had been starving for culture while she lived in the Valley, and all her hopes had come to fruition once she left Santa Ynez. She went back as rarely as possible, and occasionally felt guilty about it. She loved her father and sister, but found visiting the ranch oppressive. Just being there made her feel anxious. It was a déjà vu of her youth, which wasn’t a happy memory for her. She had felt overlooked and out of place for all seventeen years she’d lived there until she left for college.
Peter was from New York and they visited his family more often than hers, although her kids thought it was fun to go to the ranch. Caroline loved going to New York, catching up on the latest museum exhibits, the opera, theater, and everything that the city offered. She took her children with her whenever possible.
They thought their maternal grandfather was a colorful person, full of charm, and a real cowboy. He had ridden in the rodeo when he was younger, and done well. He had even survived being gored by a bull in a roping contest, which fascinated her children. But they saw very little of him. Caroline, Peter, and the children usually had something else to do. She had quietly disconnected from her own family in every significant way over the years. It was just better for her, and Peter didn’t press her about it. He wasn’t fond of the ranch either, and he knew how much she hated going home, which gave him a valid excuse not to go there and to discourage her from going. She hadn’t been back in three years.
In the early days of their relationship, Peter had teased Caroline mercilessly about growing up on a ranch. He called her a cowgirl, and referred to her “redneck origins” until she finally told him how it hurt her and got him to stop. It had taken years to win his parents’ respect, and they made it obvious that they would have preferred it if he had married someone from their world. In time, they came to appreciate her value, and how much she loved their son. Their acceptance had been hard won.
Peter valued her intelligence, good judgment, sound advice, and solid values too. But in heated moments, the difference in how they had grown up still caused them to clash. She wasn’t a New Yorker and didn’t have the sophisticated upbringing he did, but she was a loving mother and a wonderful wife. The rare times he called her a cowgirl now were meant only to ruffle her feathers, not to wound her, although sometimes it still did anyway. She wasn’t proud of her origins and still sorely felt the opportunities she had missed in Santa Ynez, with a father and two sisters who thought intellectual pursuits were a waste of time. She had more than made up for it as an adult.