At Wolf Ranch

By: Jennifer Ryan

Ella backed away from the door, walked a wide arc around the living room to stay out of their line of sight, and rushed back to the foyer.

“What the hell is that?” the detective asked.

“Lela called someone.”

Oh God, they found her phone.

“Shit. She called her sister.”

The panic squeezed her gut tight. If they discovered her, she’d be dead. Ella grabbed her sister’s suitcase, coat, purse, her own tote, and slipped out the door, closing it with a quiet snick of the latch. Maybe she’d find a clue in her sister’s things.

She rushed to the elevator, hoping to outrun the detective before he came after her. She took the elevator down and walked through the lobby and out the door. The doorman took the coat draped over her arm. “Let me help you with that, Miss Wolf.”

She mechanically stuffed her arms in the sleeves of Lela’s favorite cobalt blue coat—she’d forgotten her own in her rush out of the coffee shop. Her sister’s scent brought tears to her eyes. She blinked to keep them at bay. The doorman hailed her a cab, and she tossed her stuff in the backseat and slid in, checking the front of her building to be sure the detective hadn’t come down and spotted her escape.

“Where to?”

Ella couldn’t think past the fear and grief eating away at her insides. She didn’t know where to go or who to turn to that she could definitely say wasn’t in her uncle’s pocket. Detective Robbins would check with all her friends. She couldn’t risk going to one of them and putting them in danger.

Her gaze fell on her sister’s suitcase and the baggage tag still on the handle. She didn’t know the BZN airport code. The purse lay on her lap, her fingers clutching it in a death grip. She made herself relax and unzip the bag. She found the airline ticket voucher inside. Bozeman.

Why did you go to Montana?

They hadn’t been back to the family ranch since their father died in a plane crash when they were fourteen.

“Where are we off to?” the driver asked again, pulling her out of her dark thoughts. A plan started to form.

“LaGuardia airport.” She barely choked out the words.

She’d retrace her sister’s steps, find out what she’d been doing the last three days, where she went and who she saw. She’d find the evidence Lela died for, and God help her uncle when she did.

Chapter 2

Three Peaks Ranch, Montana

Gabe Bowden put the quarter horse through its paces around the corral, stopping him short to make an abrupt turn, then pulling on the reins to make him back up. All in all, he liked the horse’s attention and readiness to follow commands. His brother Blake trained the animal well. The horse would be a fine addition to his new ranch and a big help with the cattle due to arrive in six weeks. Gabe couldn’t wait to take over Wolf Ranch. He’d worked his ass off to earn the money to buy the place. Once the deal closed, he’d have everything he ever dreamed: the huge spread with wide-open meadows, rolling hills, rivers snaking out over the land, grass as far as the eye could see for the cattle. A livelihood he could depend on, and a legacy he’d leave to his kids. If he ever found a woman and had some kids.

After Stacy left him standing at the altar all alone, turning her nose up at his little ranch, the plans he had to build it into something more, and a quiet life as his wife and the mother of his children, it couldn’t be just any woman. He needed to find the right woman. One who wanted the same kind of simple but meaningful ranch life he wanted. Since he bought Wolf Ranch, he had a hell of lot more to offer now than he did when Stacy left him.

Finished getting a feel for the horse, he rode over to the rail and stopped next to Blake and dismounted. He ran his hand over the horse’s flank.

“You did a fine job with this one. Where’d you find him?”

“He’s one of Ross’s.”

“Something about that guy puts me off. Don’t get me wrong, his horses have the bloodlines, but I don’t like the way he runs his ranch.”

“Me either, but you asked for the best I could find. Sully is gentle, attentive, a hard worker, and a fast learner. He’ll suit you.”

“Sully? You named him already.”

“I’ve spent the last six weeks training him. I couldn’t keep calling him horse.” Blake grinned and patted Sully on the white patch on his brown forehead. The horse leaned in and closed his eyes, completely enamored and content with Blake. Gabe had to admit, his brother had a way with horses.

“How do you like it here at Three Peaks Ranch?” Gabe asked.

“I love it.”

Though Blake trained quarter horses for cutting cattle, he was making a name for himself training Thoroughbred racehorses.

“The partnership with Bud working out? It’s been a few years, you ready to get your own place?”

“Naw, I like it here. I’ve found exactly what I wanted and more.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, man.”

“You must be chomping at the bit to get into the Wolf place.”

“I can’t wait.”

“I still can’t see you rambling around that huge house.”

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