At Wolf Ranch

By: Jennifer Ryan

“I’m there. Just give me a call, and we’ll set it up.”

Gabe gave his brother a hearty hug and smack on the back. He wanted to stay, take his brother out for a beer and some food, but sunset came early this time of year. Just after four in the afternoon, it’d be dark in another hour.

Gabe sat in the cab of his truck and started the engine, cranking the heater to ward off the cold. Thirty-three degrees, the temps would plummet come dark. With the snow coming, he needed to get home without delay.

“Hey, drive careful. Sorry you’re getting off to a late start.”

“My own fault. I wanted to spend time with you.”

“I’ll see you soon. If not, definitely in six weeks when you take over the Wolf spread.”

“See you then.”

“Was she pretty?”

Taken off guard, Gabe narrowed his gaze and asked, “Who?”

“Lela Wolf.”

He didn’t even have to try to recall that heart-shaped face, those green eyes, the sweep of her light brown hair over her eyebrows and tucked behind the curve of her ear. She smelled like a field of lilies.

“Yeah, she’s pretty.” Gorgeous. Stunning. Unforgettable. Fragile, but he caught a glimpse of steel when she found out about him clearing the house and ordered him to stay out.

“Maybe she’ll come back.”

Gabe smirked at his brother and shook his head. Blake gave him a lopsided grin, obviously reading that Gabe indeed thought she was more than just pretty. Gabe hit the gas and left his brother in the dust, but not the thoughts he’d had of a beautiful woman in a blue coat with a face he couldn’t forget.

Gabe concentrated on the slick road. Due to the earlier rain, he slowed down considerably on the back roads. When he hit the highway farther north, rising up toward the pass, the rain turned to snow and slowed him even more. Way past schedule. The sun had set nearly an hour ago and visibility was getting worse by the minute along the two-lane road. If he didn’t have to worry about the horse and trailer, he’d make better time. By morning, he’d need a snow plow to clear the roads if this kept up all night. Right now, it didn’t look like the snow would stop anytime soon.

Tired after a long day and in need of a hot drink, he scratched at his rough jaw and thought about all he needed to do when he got home. Settle Sully into the stall he’d prepared in the stables that morning. Crack open a couple of cans of stew for a late dinner and make a pot of coffee. Grab the clothes he kept tossing over the seat and take them to the laundry room. Tomorrow, he’d do all the laundry. He’d get the guest room cleaned up in case Dane dropped in for another visit.

His phone rang, and he checked the caller ID. Speak of the devil. He hit the button on his steering wheel for the hands-free to answer.

“What’s up, Dane?”

“Checked out your Black Angus beauties at my buddy’s place.” His brother’s voice filled the truck cab. “Man, those are some prime beef cattle.”

“They ought to be for what I paid,” Gabe grumbled.

“Like I said, they’re a bunch of beauties. Get them certified organic and you’ll make a killing.”

“Well, it’s going to take some time, but once I get the certification and the breeding program up and running, I hope to start turning a decent profit.”

“I confirmed the delivery and verified all the records and bloodlines for the cattle. You’re good to go, man.”

“Thanks, Dane. You saved me the trip down to Nevada. How’re things going with you?”

“Rambling around, kicking ass on the rodeo circuit. I’m ranked number two behind Kurt Collins.”

“You’ll catch him.” Gabe had all the confidence in the world his brother would not only catch Kurt but beat his ass by the finals. Dane wanted that prize money and a chance at setting up his own place.

“No doubt. Gotta run, man.”

“Hot date?”

“Always. You should try it sometime. You spend far too much time alone with your horses.”

“Horses are less trouble than women.”

“Women smell better.”

Gabe chuckled. “I’ve got other priorities right now.”

“Doesn’t hurt to have some fun.”

“You’re having plenty enough for me and half the men in Montana.”

This time Dane laughed. “That’s for sure.”

“So go have your fun.”

“You used to come out with me. I miss those days.”

“I don’t.” After Stacy, he’d left his ranch and rambled around on the rodeo circuit, chasing the thrill of the ride and every woman he could get his hands on, until he woke up one morning with another buckle-bunny beside him and no idea what her name was. He didn’t care. She’d scratched an itch, but left him empty. They all did. He’d used them to fill up the emptiness inside him that grew with every meaningless encounter. He’d needed the thrill of the conquest, knowing he could seduce a woman into his bed. But he woke up and realized that’s all they wanted from him, because that’s all he had to offer. If he wanted to build a life with a woman, he’d have to have something more to offer than meaningless, mindless sex. So he came home to build something he could be proud of, a life someone would want to share with him.

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