J.M.J.

Author's Note: Welcome to Shadow Ranch, my latest entry in the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew fanfiction world! Thanks for dropping in and I hope you will enjoy the story!

Before we get started, I wanted to make a few notes. First off, this is obviously not the sequel to The Ruby Pendant that I have hinted at. That story is on hold, pending inspiration. In the meantime, I've been thinking about writing this story for a long time (almost as long as I've been on this site), and I think that now would be a good time, as all my inspiration is for this story at the moment. That being said, it's not finished yet, but then I have yet to wait until I actually finish a story to start posting it. In the interest of helping me keep my sanity, I will only be posting a chapter a week on Friday to begin with. Later, once the story is completely finished, I may speed up the posting schedule. With such a long wait between chapters, I will be making each chapter longer than is usual with my stories and also do my best to resist the urge to end every chapter with a cliffhanger (but I don't promise to always be successful on that score ;) ).

Secondly, as you probably already realize from reading the summary, this is an AU that takes place in the year 1875 in Arizona. If that isn't your thing, I totally understand. It's not the most AU-ish of all AU's, though; it's basically just the same ol' Nancy, Frank, and Joe that we all know and love solving a mystery in a different setting.

Did I just mention that Frank and Joe are in this story? They absolutely are and they have big parts, but Nancy is the main character and thus most of the story is told from her POV. Even so, I intend this to be a long story and I will take my time and slow down to explore the different characters. In order to do them all justice, I've had to pare down the number of chums who will appear. Out of Nancy's friends, Bess, George, and Ned will all appear, and out of the Hardys' friends, it will just be Chet and Iola. It's not that I have anything against the characters I have cut; it's just that I need to give myself time to do everyone full justice. As far as ages and relationships go, everyone is a year younger than they are in canon (so Nancy and Frank are seventeen and Joe is sixteen). No one is dating anybody at the beginning of the story (unless otherwise stated), but there will be a relationship or two in bloom by the end. As always, though, everything in that department is rated K (I'm just not comfortable writing anything more than that).

Finally, this is not a rewrite of the book The Secret of Shadow Ranch; however, it does use characters from both the book and the PC game as well as from the books The Sky Phantom and The Sign of the Crooked Arrow. In fact, I am practically solely using characters from those four sources. In fact, unless the character is unnamed or makes only a very, very small appearance or is the murder victim, they are from one of those four sources. So, essentially, there are no OCs in this story, though several of the canon characters had to be fleshed out quite a bit. This story also uses several plot points from the story of Frances Humber and Dirk Valentine as revealed in both the book and the game of The Secret of Shadow Ranch, but it doesn't follow the same road all the way through and that is more of a subplot than the main storyline. The main storyline is a murder mystery, but it won't be until the end of the second chapter that the murder will take place.

All that being said, I once again hope that you enjoy the story and I thank you in advance for reading and/or following/favoriting/reviewing! Without further ado, I present to you:

Shadow Ranch

To: Miss Nancy Drew

c/o Mr. Carson Drew

River Heights, State of Illinois

From: Miss Elizabeth Marvin

Shadow Ranch

Dry Creek, Territory of Arizona

May 12, 1875

Dear Nancy,

After all the times I have said that I wished I could leave River Heights and see more of the world, I can hardly believe now how much I miss everything about River Heights. I miss the parks and the terrible, little railroad station, and seeing Chief McGinnis ride around on his horse. I miss rowing boats on the Muskoka River. I miss the shops (even though I always thought they were awful while I still lived there). I miss my old house. Most of all, I miss you and my parents and Uncle Tom and Aunt Louise. It just isn't fair that one day, everything was normal and familiar and boring and then the next day, with just a single telegram, everything that I ever thought was permanent in my life was taken away. I'll never forget that terrible day, when George and I were told about the accident. Then, just because we don't have any other relatives living near River Heights, we had to go all the way to Arizona to live with an aunt and uncle we've never even met before and stay with them on a cattle ranch in the middle of the desert! We even had to ride a train, and I was terrified the whole time. I know trains don't crash very often, but one time was enough to

George found me crying at my desk while I was writing that. She made me go out and take a walk with her to cheer up, and I do feel better now. She also told me to tear up what I had written and start over, but I will not. I know it is probably not fair, but I want you to know how I am really feeling. Anyway, if I was still in River Heights or if you were here, I would be telling you all of this in person, but since I cannot do that, a letter is the next best thing.

While I am writing about George, I should say that I would have never survived the last three months without her. She has been so wonderful to me. It seems like every time I really need someone to talk to, she is right there. I am not sure how she knows I need her right then, but she does. She has even gotten much better at knowing just when to tease me than she ever used to be. She hardly ever makes me feel bad about eating too much or trying too hard to be pretty – instead, she only teases me to cheer me up. I am sad about Uncle Tom and Aunt Louise, of course, but I am very glad that George is here with me.

Just so you do not think everything about Shadow Ranch is terrible and that my life is a perfect pit of misery now, I should tell you that I actually like the West much more than I ever thought I would. The landscape is so beautiful. It is a wild and rugged and even harsh kind of beauty, but even the desert can look lovely at the right time of day. I also like the name – Shadow Ranch. Some people say that the ranch was named after a mountain that is on the border of the ranch and is called Shadow Mountain, but other people say that the ranch was named that first because it is in the shadow of the mountain, and then the mountain was named after the ranch. I think the latter sounds more romantic, so I shall hope that that is the true story.

I should tell you all about Shadow Ranch. The ranch itself belongs to a man named Sheriff Humber. He has not been sheriff in Dry Creek (which is the nearest town, even though it is still a long way away) for very long, and before that he was just a rancher. Shadow Ranch is one of the biggest ranches around here (the other two are Crowhead Ranch, which belongs to a woman named Ruth Hardy, and the other is just called the Hamilton Ranch because it belongs to a man whom everyone around here calls Pop Hamilton). Now that Sheriff Humber has all the extra responsibilities of being the sheriff, he had to hire a foreman to run the ranch for him. Uncle Ed is, of course, the foreman. He has a lot of experience working cattle and he knew Sheriff Humber slightly before hand, so it was not such a surprise that Sheriff Humber offered him this job.

I should also say that Uncle Ed and Aunt Bet have been wonderful to us. They do not have any children of their own, and so even though Aunt Bet (her real name is Elizabeth, like mine, but, also like me, she thinks it sounds stuffy and would rather be called something else) is heartbroken about her sisters (my mother, George's mother, and her were all sisters), she is very excited that George and I get to be like daughters for her. She knows that she cannot take our real mothers' places, too, and so she is trying not to overwhelm us.

Because Uncle Ed is the foreman, he and Aunt Bet live right in the main ranch house. There are a lot of extra bedrooms, and so George and I also live in the main ranch house. The only other people who do are Sheriff Humber, his daughter Frances, and the cook, Shorty Thurmond. All the cattlehands live in the bunk houses outside. Sheriff Humber said that it was only fair if George and I "pulled our own weight", as he put it, and so George and I have been doing what we can, which is mostly tending to the garden (you would not believe how much water we have to carrying from the water pump to put on the garden) and cleaning the house. Aunt Bet and Frances do a lot of the same work, but they are also good at riding horses and help with the cattle at a pinch. In fact, one of the first nights we were here, there was a terrible storm that spooked the cattle and they broke through the fence onto the neighboring ranch (that would be Crowhead Ranch, and it was really a problem because Mrs. Hardy does not get along with Sheriff Humber – I am not sure why not). Most of the cowhands were on other parts of the ranch, and the only ones here were Sheriff Humber, Uncle Ed, the cook, Aunt Bet, Frances, George, and I. Aunt Bet and Frances saddled their horses right up and went out with the men to help round the cattle up. Naturally, George and I have been practicing riding horses ever since. George is really good at it, and even I am not terrible at it.

I should tell you about Frances, but she is a little hard to describe. She reminds me a lot of you, actually, in some ways. She lost her mother when she was really young, like you did, but she is really smart. She reads a lot of books, and she is good at a lot of things, from riding horses to knitting. She is a little bit prideful about her accomplishments, I think, and she does not seem to get on well with her father. Those things do not remind me of you, of course. I get on with her well enough, but George does not. George can hardly stand to be in the same room as her.

One particularly nice part of Shadow Ranch that I was a little worried about at first is the cowboys. Most of them are old enough to be my father, but they are very respectful. There are a handful or so who are younger, not much older than us. Two of these, in particular, are also very handsome. Their names are Bud Moore and Dave Gregory. Mr. Gregory is not too friendly toward George and me (I think he does not care much for "Easterners", as he called us, even though I tried to explain to him that Illinois is not actually in the East). Bud, however, is very friendly. (You do not think it is too forward for me to call him "Bud" already, do you? He asked me to. I think he might fancy me.) There is another who is not so very old (probably around twenty-five or so) who is definitely not friendly. His name is Tex Britten, and I have never met such an unfriendly man in my entire life.

There was one other unexpected benefit of coming out here to live. A distant cousin of ours, Ross Regor, and his daughter, Alice, also live near here. Uncle Ross (as we call him – as I just said, he is a distant cousin of some sort rather than an uncle) is an artist and paints the loveliest landscape of the area around here that you have ever seen. That does not pay much, of course, so he also works as a banker in Tumbleweed (which is another town that is not quite so horrendously far away as most towns). Alice is a few years younger than George and me, but it is nice to get to know her a little.

I wish you could come and visit us, Nancy. I can hardly believe it has been nearly three months since we left River Heights, not knowing if we would ever get to actually see you again. I keep hoping that your father will agree to let you visit soon. If he does not, George and I are saving our money (Sheriff Humber pays us twenty-five cents a day to help around the ranch house – he would pay us more if we helped with the cattle) to come and visit you as soon as you can. That is one good thing about living so far away from town – there are a lot less chances to spend my money.

Write to me soon! I miss you.

Ever your friend,

Bess

P.S. (May 13) Sheriff Humber wanted to enclose a letter to your father in the same envelope. I am not sure what it is about, but if somehow he is inviting you to come visit, please do! B.M.