Claimed!

By: Vicki Lewis Thompson

Prologue



8:32 p.m., May 14, 1946

“BEAR DOWN, Eleanor!” Delia, a midwife from Jackson, coached the birth from the foot of Archie and Nelsie Chance’s marriage bed. “This little tyke’s a stubborn one.”

Archie gripped his wife’s hand. “Not as stubborn as my wife,” he said with pride. He’d watched her battle for five hours to have this baby. Her language had grown more colorful, but her spirit had never flagged. He crouched down and murmured in her ear. “Come on, Nelsie girl. You can do it.”Nelsie panted and dug her nails into his hand. “Damn right I can. This kid is going to be born…right…now!” And she let out a yell that would have done a cowhand proud.

Delia whooped. “That does it!” She eased the baby free. “Congratulations. You have yourselves a bouncing baby boy.”

Still clutching Nelsie’s hand, Archie rose to his feet and stared in wonder. The baby was as red as a boiled lobster and slippery with goo. As Delia ran a cloth over the wrinkled little face, the baby sputtered once before launching into a series of high-pitched, hiccuping wails. Archie’s vision blurred and his chest tightened. A son. He had a son.

“Archie?” Nelsie squeezed his hand. “Are you okay?”

Clearing his throat, he blinked away tears. “I’ve never been more okay in my life.” He leaned down to give her a tender kiss. “How about you, brave girl?”

“Much better, now.”

“Thank you for having our baby.”

Nelsie looked a little misty-eyed herself. “My pleasure. Well, maybe not. It was a lot more fun making that baby than having him.”

“I’ll bet.” He kissed her again. “You were great.”

“So who wants to hold him first?” Delia approached with the squalling baby wrapped in a blanket.

Archie had assisted many a calf into this life and a few foals, as well, but holding this baby scared the bejesus out of him. “Maybe you’d better give him to Nelsie.”

“No.” Nelsie’s voice was firm. “You hold him first, Arch. I want Delia to take a picture. The camera’s on the dresser.”

“Uh, okay.” Archie could hardly refuse after all Nelsie had been through. Reluctantly he accepted the red-faced little kid, who was working up quite a head of steam. “Just for the picture.”

“Support his head in the crook of your arm.” Delia positioned the baby to her satisfaction. “There. I’ll get the camera. By the way, have you picked a name?”

Archie stood frozen to the spot and gazed down at the tiny face, the eyes squeezed shut and the toothless mouth pouring out all that baby anguish.

“We decided on Jonathan Edward,” he said. “Jonathan for Nelsie’s father and Edward for mine.”

“That’s a fine name,” Delia said. “Suits him.”

Archie wasn’t sure. It seemed like a really big name for such a tiny thing. “Shh,” he murmured, jiggling the baby just a little bit, the way he’d seen people do. “Shh, Jonathan.”

As if a switch had been thrown, the baby stopped crying. With a ragged sigh, Jonathan Edward opened his little eyes.

“See?” Nelsie’s voice trembled. “He likes his name.”

“Guess so.” Archie’s chest swelled as he looked into those unfocused baby eyes.

“Hold still so I can get the picture,” Delia said.

Archie didn’t glance up as the camera flashed. That newborn gaze held all his attention. Slowly he began to contemplate something he hadn’t dared think about until now. Life held no guarantees, but with a little luck, this tiny baby would grow into his name. And with even more luck, Jonathan Edward Chance would continue the legacy of the Last Chance Ranch.





1



Present day

“JOSIE, THERE’S A drunken cowboy at the door.”

Jack Chance stared at the tall guy silhouetted in the doorway of Josie’s place. His Josie. “Who the hell are you?”“That’s none of your business. Look, Josie closed the bar thirty minutes ago, and besides, you don’t look as if you need another—”

“You’d better not be her boyfriend.” Jack was a tad bit liquored up, but he’d been sober enough to climb the stairs to Josie’s apartment above the Spirits and Spurs without stumbling. He also was sober enough to understand the significance of a guy answering her door at this hour of the night.

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