Russell Cade rode his horse to the top of the ridge and stopped, gazing down at the valley below. It had been a long winter, but the valley was beginning to show a little green. Winter wasn't over yet, though, and there would likely be at least one more snowfall. His small herd of Angus cattle was still in the south pasture where they had the protection of a pole barn. The grass in the valley needed to grow a little longer before he brought them here.
He turned the horse and rode back down the hill. It was Friday and he wanted to talk to that girl at the restaurant...Cynthia. He'd been thinking about what he wanted to say for weeks. He had no idea what her wages were and he didn't want to insult her with wages that were too low, but he had figured out what it was worth to him. What he needed was someone to take care of the house while he was working the ranch. It wouldn't cost that much more for two people to eat than one, and he had plenty of room for a live-in maid. He had thought to get an older woman, but ever since he had been going to the restaurant, Cynthia had been on his mind. She was personable and professional. She seemed more mature than the others...not given to inane giggling and gossip. She treated him with respect, never participating in the behind-the-hand snickering that the others did.
He was well aware that he was an abnormal sort...and equally aware that he wasn't going to change. It had been three years since he came home and found his mother dead in her room. He had been aware that she was miserable alone in that big house. She had grown up in a large house with nice things and lots of parties. His father, her first husband, had tolerated her insatiable desire for socializing almost thirteen years, but ultimately it led to divorce. It had occurred to him many times she never really loved his father. Whether she had finally found true love or simply matured, she seemed to be content at the ranch when Mr. Cade was alive. Russ had good memories of those days. He loved everything about the new set-up, including his step-father. The solitude of the wild beautiful country suited his temperament more than the city had. He enjoyed working with Mr. Cade on the ranch. When Mr. Cade died of a sudden heart attack, Russ had grieved the loss every bit as much as his half-siblings. He had been happy the day he was adopted and was still proud to wear the name Cade. His step-sisters and brothers had not warmed to him, though. It was something he learned to accept. He buried himself in school and the ranch, further alienating them. They all married and left the ranch with no intent to return, but he had stayed, helping Mr. Cade until his death. His mother inherited the ranch and a modest income until her death. She left the ranch to him. The others didn't want the ranch, but they resented the fact that he ultimately inherited what belonged to their father.

At the barn, Cade unsaddled his horse and rubbed him down. He gave him some hay and headed for the house. There he bathed and dressed. A trip through the house assured him that everything was in order, so he headed to town for a meal and a night out. It wasn't something he looked forward to in the beginning. It was something he felt he needed to do. Already people referred to him as a hermit. It wasn't that he didn't like people. He simply preferred the open range to an office. Granted, since his mother's death he had pretty much severed contact with the rest of the world. Grief and guilt had haunted him long enough, though. It was time to rejoin civilization, even if it was only in the form of a meal at the diner once a week. It wasn't something he wanted to do...not at first. Each time Cynthia came to his table with a bright smile and spoke to him, he warmed a little more to the idea. After a while he began to entertain the idea of a maid in his home. It would be nice to come in from the range to a hot meal and a smile. It wouldn't be like his mother, who felt obligated to stay at the ranch. Hired help could leave any time they wanted if they found the place too depressing. He'd even give them the run of the ranch and the loan of a horse to do it. He'd have to find someone who liked that type of thing, though. He wasn't sure why he thought Cynthia was a good fit for the job, but he'd find out before he hired her. He wasn't going to make the job sound like fun. The house was cold and the only form of entertainment was a wall full of books. He had always found them more entertaining than a television. An occasional trip to town to see a movie was all the socializing he could stand for a couple of months. People were up and down the aisles constantly going to the restroom or buying huge buckets of popcorn and candy. Sometimes he wondered whether they came to see the movie or eat. Then there were the parents who dropped their boisterous kids off so they could have an evening alone. Did the kids act that way at home? He'd rather take a long ride through the hills of his three thousand acre ranch. Nothing on that big screen could compare to its beauty, and the quiet country was soothing. He always slept well at night after a long day of work on the range.
He was acutely aware that his taste in entertainment and everything else was out of tune with the rest of the world. Still, he couldn't withdraw from the world. He had seen what it had done to his mother. He wouldn't let himself be drawn into that kind of isolation.
He grabbed the old western hat that had belonged to his step-father from the hook on the wall beside the door. Clamping it on his head, he opened the door. Tonight was like any other chore. It had to be done and it had to start somewhere.

PROLOGUE
Courtship of the Recluse
                   Linda Louise Rigsbee