A Place Called Home
Far Hills Ranch has been the Suslands’ beloved Wyoming home for more than a century. But with it has come the legend of a family curse.
Now, according to the legend, the current far-flung Suslands are the last with a chance to lift the curse . . . whether they believe in it or not.
To fulfill the legend’s demands, these cousins must face personal challenges and risk their hearts, all for the sake of …
Twenty years ago, Far Hills Ranch, Wyoming
“Tell us the Far Hills legend, Aunt Marti,” urged eleven-year-old Kendra Jenner.
Before Marti Susland could respond, Dale Sinclair, scoffed with all the disdain of a thirteen-year-old, “We don’t want to hear that old story again.”
“Yes, we do,” Amy asserted. Although Marti’s half-sister was a few months older than Kendra, she always followed Kendra’s lead. Twelve-year-old Ellyn Neal backed their vote up with a nod.
“Aw, only girls and babies want to hear that story, right, Grif?” Dale appealed to the oldest, thus consigning to babyhood the youngest of the gathering, Luke Chandler, son of the Far Hills foreman.
Fourteen-year-old John Griffin looked at each of the faces around the campfire until he came to her. Marti looked back at the only child of her oldest sister and felt a renewed ache of loss at Nancy’s death three years ago.
“I’d like to hear it, too. One last time.”
Marti’s breath hitched. It was as if the boy had shared her premonition. Was this last campfire of the summer also the last for this gathering?
These children had spent summers at Far Hills all their lives. Each summer, with her older sisters’ children–Nancy’s son Grif and Wendy’s daughter Kendra–joining Amy and Luke in living here along with Dale Sinclair and Ellyn Neal spending more time here than at their homes in town, Far Hills Ranch was nearly what Marti had always dreamed it could be. Unclouded by the past.
A past embedded in the legend these innocents considered a thrilling story heard around a campfire.
“Please, Marti,” whispered Amy.
Marti gave in to her half-sister. As always.
“It happened right here, in 1878,” she began, using the familiar words she first heard from her grandmother. “The campfire burned for four days and four nights on that outcropping on Crooked Mountain that lets you see all over Far Hills, until Charles Susland–your great-great-grandfather, Kendra and Grif,” she broke off to explain, as if they hadn’t heard this too many times to count.
“And our great-grandfather,” supplied Amy.
“That’s right. That fire burned for four days and four nights after Charles Susland turned Leaping Star away from the house, until, finally, he rode up the mountainside. He only did it then to still his new wife, Annalee. If she hadn’t been expecting a baby he’d have ignored her blathering and vapors. She’d given him one son already, but he wanted many sons.
“The Crow woman rose slowly when he rode into her camp and spoke to her.”
Marti automatically dropped her voice to gruffly speak her ancestor’s part.
“‘I told you when you came to the house–you have no place here.’
“‘This is my place, my only place, my people’s place,’ Leaping Star told him. ‘They brought you to it when you took me as wife. They helped you. And you took our place.’
“‘Far Hills is mine. I built it. Your people didn’t make anything of this land, I did. And now your place is the reservation. Go back, Leaping Star.’
“‘Your children die there. White Deer and Yellow Sky died at the full moon. Runs At Dawn is weak.”
Amy drew in an audible breath of sympathy.
“‘Then go take care of her.’
“‘There is nothing left in me. Only enough to come to you, Charles Susland. Care for our daughter or she will die.’
“‘I can’t go running off leaving Far Hills. And I have a son now. A white son. He’ll learn to build something on this land instead of roaming like a pack of animals.’ He pivoted his horse.
“He would have kept riding if he could have, but Leaping Star’s will was too strong.
“‘You turn away from your children, so your blood will be alone. You turn away from my people, so your blood will have no home. You turn away from me, so your blood will be lost. Only when someone loves enough to undo your wrongs will the laughter of children live beyond its echo in Far Hills.’ One more night the fire burned on the overlook. And then it went out.”
At Marti’s final hushed words, a log shifted on the small fire and dimmed the flames.
Dale emitted a ghostly laugh, “So you’re all cursed! Just like everybody in town says–the Far Hills Curse, that’s why all those Suslands die like flies.”
“Shut up, Dale,” ordered Amy. “You don’t know anything about it–you’re not a Susland.”
“So what. Neither’s Luke! Or Ellyn. And–”
“How could he not go back to his children?” Kendra’s voice trembled, but it seemed to be with outrage, not imminent tears.
“Maybe he didn’t know how to be a father.” Grif stared into the fire. “Some men just don’t.”
Marti licked her dry lips, tasting the whisper of winter’s coming cold. “There’s one more part I’ve never told you before.”
All eyes turned to her.
“But now … now I think I should. In case we’re not all together again.”
Marti resumed her story-telling voice. “Leaping Star said one more thing to Charles Susland: ‘If these wrongs are not righted in five generations of your blood, then they will never be undone, and Far Hills will be ever silent.’ ”
Amy’s wide eyes stared at her. “What does that mean?”
“It means somebody who had Charles Susland as an ancestor needs to make right all those things he did,” said Kendra. “But there are others besides us, aren’t there?”
Grif shook his head. “I remember Mom showing me a family tree. Lots of people died young and–”
“Just like I said!” crowed Dale.
“–that means the group of us sitting here’s the last of Charles Susland’s descendants. But even if you believe in this sort of thing, Aunt Marti, how could folks living now make right something that happened a hundred years ago?”
“All I know is Amy and I are the last to carry the Susland name, but it will be our children, if we have any, and you, Grif, and you, Kendra, who must make sure the curse is lifted. Because you’re the fifth generation of Charles Susland’s blood.
“You’re the last hope of Far Hills.”