At Wolf Ranch

By: Jennifer Ryan

“I flew in today from New York City.”

“I took you for a city girl.”

What gave her away? The suede boots. Her too thin slacks and sweater. The full-length coat more suited for a night out to dinner in the city than a snowstorm.

“Why are you headed out to Wolf Ranch? Wolfs haven’t been back since the plane crash. I heard they might sell the place. Is that why you’re here?”

The pain of her parents’ death felt as raw today as it did when she was fourteen. Today, though, that pain mixed with the loss of her sister and the dreams they’d had for their future together, finally taking the helm of all their parents left behind.

“Um, yes,” she choked out. “The company sent me to check on the house. For the family.”

“Are they thinking of selling?” he asked again.

No way would she ever sell the house. In her mind, it held all the memories of her and Lela with their parents. Those were the happy days when her father didn’t work and her mother didn’t rush off for luncheons with friends. At the ranch, it was just family.

God, how she missed those simpler times.

“No. The ranch will always belong to the Wolf family.” Well, to her. She was the only one left.

“That’s what I thought. So, how long are you staying? Did they ask you to check on anything else besides the Wolfs’ home?”

That sounded odd, but she didn’t know what else her family owned here besides the house. If memory served, they’d only ever come to spend vacations together, riding the horses in the spring and summer and skiing in the winter.

“Right now, my only concern is the house. Why?”

“No reason. Just making conversation.”

The tires rolled on over the road and she focused on the fluttering snow and hoped they didn’t hit a patch of ice and crash. That would make her uncle happy, and the last thing she wanted to do was please him in any way. No, she planned to destroy him one way or another. He thought she’d spent the last years of her life fooling around and playing the party girl. Well, he didn’t know who he was up against, and his ignorance and indifference to her would serve her well.

“I am so tired of the cold. Once the sun goes down, temperatures plummet this time of year.”

“I guess I should have packed my warmer coat,” she said lamely, turning to the side window and rolling her eyes. Nothing about this guy appealed to the senses. Unpleasant to look at, his gut hung over his waistband, and his overstretched shirt rode up on his hairy belly. His ruddy cheeks and nose made the rest of his face look pasty white. If that wasn’t enough, he needed a shower. Bad. But the way he kept looking at her made the creepy crawlies dance up her spine and over her skin. She hoped the roads stayed clear enough for them to make it to the ranch quickly. “How much farther is it?”

“Only about another twenty miles. Don’t worry. We’ll make it. I drive through thicker stuff than this all the time.”

“It’s just I’m cold and I can’t wait to be inside so I can warm up by a hot fire.” She only hoped the house still had the electricity turned on and wood for the fireplace. Either way, being at the house would be better than sitting next to Travis.

“If you’re cold, come on over here, darlin’. Ol’ Travis will keep you warm.” He reached over and traced his fingers over her shoulder and down her arm.

“Really, thank you, but I’m fine.”

“You’re all wet, ain’t ya?”

She didn’t like the suggestive way he said “wet.” It made her feel as dirty as the look in his eyes.

“Best way to get warm in weather like this is to use each other’s body heat. Lord knows this old truck’s heater can’t keep you as warm as I can.”

While she thought of a response, he reached over, grabbed her thigh, and pulled her leg closer to him. Too intimate and totally inappropriate. Fear washed through her chest, and she gasped, swatting his hand away. “Stop that.”

All he did was chuckle, but she didn’t find any comfort in the creepy sound.

“Come on, honey, scoot on over here and give ol’ Travis a little somethin’, somethin’.”

“Look, I’m not interested in anything but a ride.”

“I’ll give you the ride of your life.”

After the day she had, her trepidation turned to anger. “Really. This is how you think women want to be treated?”

“The way I see it, honey, you’ve got two options, me and this truck, or that there snowstorm.”

Trying to appeal to his sense of decency, if he had one, she said. “What will sweet Bev and all those other customers back at the coffee house say when they find out you dumped me on the road?”

“All they’ll know is what I tell them. That I fucked the hot chick in the front seat of my truck.”

“Not a single one of them will believe I gave into your charms, big guy.”

“Think you’re something special, do you?” He reached for her again, but she smacked his hand, stinging her fingers and hopefully his hand as well. He pulled back from her, but checked the mirrors and slammed on the brakes in the middle of the deserted road.

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