The day after his fourteenth birthday in July, Peter Pollock still had to do all his usual morning chores on his parents’ ranch in Fishtail, Montana. Fishtail was in Stillwater County, in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains, an hour from Billings, Montana. The closest mountain to them was Granite Peak, with an elevation of 12,807 feet, the highest mountain in Montana and the most challenging to climb. The town itself was at 4,466 feet and had a population of 478 people. Peter had grown up in Fishtail and loved his life there, except for his morning chores.
He was a good-looking boy, tall for his age. He looked like his father, Pitt, with straight blond hair and sky-blue eyes. His mother, Anne, was blond too, petite and fine-featured, and a stunning rider. She had won blue ribbons at all the local horse shows and rodeos in her teens. She and Pitt had been high school sweethearts since freshman year, when they were Peter’s age. They’d gone to the University of Montana together, and got married in June after they’d graduated. Peter was born in July of the following year, when his parents were twenty-three years old. They were thirty-seven now, and had always said they wanted five or six children. Anne was an only child and had wanted a big family, but she had never gotten pregnant again. They’d gone to see a specialist in Billings, and another one in Denver. The doctors they saw marveled at the fact that they’d even managed to have Peter. A defect in Anne’s fallopian tubes made it almost impossible to conceive, and she never had again, so they focused all their love and attention on Peter, and were grateful for the miracle of their only child.
Pitt’s paternal grandfather had founded the Pollock ranch. They bred and sold the finest horses in the state, and it was the largest ranch in the area, well known and respected throughout the western states. People came from as far south as Texas to buy their horses, and as far east as Kentucky. The bloodlines of their horses were legendary. Pitt’s father had run the ranch when his father died, and as an only child himself, Pitt had inherited it from his father when he died in an accident ten years before. Pitt Pollock was one of the youngest, most successful ranchers in Montana. Anne had never even thought about that when she fell in love with him at fourteen. Her father had been everyone’s favorite local vet, and he had taken Anne with him many times when he tended to the horses on the ranch. It had never dawned on either father that their children would fall in love, and when they did, their parents figured it wouldn’t last. They were just kids when it all started. Twenty-three years later, they were more in love than ever.
Anne worked side by side with Pitt in the office and was the chief financial officer. She had majored in business and economics, and had a great head for finance. Pitt knew everything there was to know about horses. He’d been taught by his father and grandfather, and had learned his lessons well. Peter knew that one day he would run the ranch. He was a serious, responsible boy and had never caused his parents any trouble. He got decent grades in school, but liked to have fun too. He planned to follow in his parents’ footsteps and go to the University of Montana. His mother thought he should go to business school afterwards, to learn everything he could about running a venture as large as theirs. The world had changed since Pitt’s grandfather’s day. Now it was essential to know everything about the economics involved, not just about horses. It was a flourishing business. Peter was nowhere near thinking about graduate school yet, although his parents talked about it more than he wanted them to. He was starting high school at the end of August, which was as far as he wanted to look for now. He was excited about it.
He had grown up with a carefree life on the ranch, and rode some of the finest horses in the country whenever he wanted to. He had ridden in his first rodeo when he was five, his parents bursting with pride while they watched him. Their open adoration of him was embarrassing at times. For Peter, parents who were crazy about him, and madly in love with each other, was a given. All he wanted to do was ride, have fun, and spend as much time as he could with his three best friends.
The boys had grown up together, and they spent all the time they could with each other, riding their bikes to each other’s homes and exploring. Anne and Pitt always made the boys feel welcome at the ranch. They had set up a bunk room where they could stay whenever they wanted. They didn’t want Peter to suffer from not having siblings, and the four boys spent every possible moment together, although Pitt kept Peter busy doing chores on the ranch. He wanted his son to learn ranching from the bottom up, and didn’t hesitate to assign him menial tasks, like the ones Pitt had done as a boy. Peter never thought about how successful they were, or what all this would mean to him one day. It was where they lived and what they did. His friends paid no attention to it either. They had no regard for the thousands of acres the Pollocks owned, or the volume of business they did, breeding and selling valuable horses. None of them understood how lucrative the ranch was, which Anne and Pitt thought was just as well.
Bill and Pattie Brown owned a smaller neighboring ranch. Bill’s father had bought the land for it from Pitt’s father when Bill was a boy. They had cattle as well as horses and sheep. They owned a successful dairy, and though their operation was smaller than the Pollocks’, they did well. They were Anne and Pitt’s closest friends. Pitt, Anne, and Pattie had gone to high school together. Bill and Pitt were best friends. And once the two couples were married, they were ecstatic when they got pregnant at the same time. Anne and Pattie talked about how their babies would become best friends one day, or marry. Their sons were born three weeks apart, with Matt Brown arriving before Peter. Anne and Pitt were Matt’s godparents. And their wish had come true when the two boys were best friends by the time they went to nursery school together. Anne had been graciously happy for Bill and Pattie when they had a second child eight years later, although the Pollocks knew that a brother or sister for Peter was not in the cards for them. They had made their peace with it. The Browns’ second child was another boy, Benjie. He was now six years old, and his older brother’s adoring shadow, much to Matt’s irritation most of the time. Matt grudgingly took Benjie with him whenever his parents insisted, but he loved escaping to the Pollocks’ ranch to hang out with Peter and, whenever possible, he would leave Benjie at home.
Pattie had gone to nursing school while Anne and Pitt were in college. Bill was three years older and already working on the ranch. He and Pattie got married a year before Anne and Pitt. They had broken up for a while before that, and dated other people, but they married each other in the end. Pattie worked as a nurse for two years until Matt was born, and then became a stay-at-home mom after that. Her life with Bill was secure. Her family hadn’t had the means that Bill’s did, so she was grateful for the life he provided her and their two boys. She was the envy of her sisters, with a husband who owned a successful ranch, and she didn’t have to work. Her sisters’ husbands were ranch hands elsewhere in the state, as Pattie’s father had been. Both Pattie’s sisters had jobs, one as a teacher and the other as a secretary. Pattie was the success story in the family, married to a rancher.
Bill and Pattie’s relationship was occasionally stormy, unlike Anne and Pitt’s still-romantic relationship. Bill had a hot temper, and she had a fiery nature, but despite the occasional fights, Pattie and Bill considered themselves happily married. Pattie thought about having a third baby at times, and would have liked to have a girl, but the prospect of ending up with three boys made the idea less appealing. She had her hands full with the two she had. Matt had been much more mischievous and adventuresome than Peter when they were younger, and Pattie was constantly chasing after Benjie to make sure that he didn’t get hurt in the cattle barn, or chasing after the sheep, or hanging around the bullpen. He wanted to do everything his older brother did, and she spent a good part of her day checking up on him, worried about what he was up to, and often scolding him when she found him.
The two families went on vacations together every year. One of their favorite pastimes was camping, and the boys loved it. They provided an extended family for each other. Peter and Matt were always at one home or the other, with a slight preference for the Pollocks’ place, because Benjie wasn’t there.
Matt’s ambitions were very different from Peter Pollock’s. Peter’s future was set as the sole heir to the ranch. He would be the fourth generation to run it one day. He loved where they lived and the life of a rancher, and he watched his father carefully to learn from him.