Danger on the Ranch

By: Dana Mentink

Her child’s life is on the line

A Roughwater Ranch Cowboys story


After putting his serial killer brother in prison, former US marshal Mitch Whitehorse chooses a solitary country life—until his brother escapes. Now Mitch’s former sister-in-law, Jane Reyes, needs protection...for herself and the toddler she’s kept a secret. Mitch still isn’t sure of Jane’s innocence in his brother’s crimes, but to keep his nephew out of a killer’s grasp, trusting her is his only option.





“You didn’t know the guy you married was a serial killer?”


The judgment was there in Mitch’s eyes, the same as she’d seen in the courtroom, from the cops, from the people who drove by her house and threw rocks through her windows, flattened her tires, sent death threats.

Jane swallowed hard against an onslaught of bitter tears. “I was blind, stupid blind, but I did not know.”

A long moment passed between them. “You’re right. I don’t believe you.”

She sagged. What else had she expected? “Okay. Don’t believe me, but Wade has come here to kill you and after he does that, he’ll kill me, too.”

“Why would he want to kill you? If you’re really innocent, why would Wade want to do that?”

“Because he will eventually find out that I have something he wants, something that I won’t ever give to him while I have breath in my body.”

“What could you have that would make him care enough to come after you?”

Her head spun and she fought for breath.

“I have his son.”





ONE


Storm’s coming.

The illogical notion trickled again through Mitch Whitehorse’s gut as he surveyed the late-afternoon fog choking the windswept cove. Strange, since there was no sign of a weather front moving in through the mist. He fingered the scar that grooved his cheek, the rough patch oddly numb, a dead spot courtesy of his brother. The occasional blurred vision and migraines were an additional reminder of how close he’d come to dying at Wade’s hand.

But it wasn’t so much the pain of having his occipital bone crushed or the resulting symptoms that stuck in his mind—it was his brother’s smile. Even when Wade was led from the courtroom after the guilty verdict that would send him to prison for life, he’d been smiling right at Mitch, a smile of pure evil, cold as the grave, unrepentant, undefeated.

Rosie, the big roan mare, shifted underneath Mitch, probably wondering why they were standing on a bluff in the numbing fog, staring out at the crawling Pacific instead of sheltering from the February wind. They’d spent a full day moving a herd of cattle from one pasture to another and chasing down an ailing cow to administer medicine. Straightening, Mitch ignored the twinge in his back, courtesy of his days as a US marshal and the fact that he was now a hardworking cowboy staring forty in the face.

Storm’s coming.

There it was again, the warning his instincts kept whispering in spite of what his eyes could see.

Pure silliness. Nothing could shake Mitch anymore, least of all a mere storm. The worst evil he’d ever encountered, Wade’s heinous killing spree that left three women dead, was over. Wade was in prison, Mitch’s final act as a US marshal before he’d walked away from law enforcement and onto his uncle Gus’s Roughwater Ranch. He hadn’t put Wade’s wife, Jane Reyes, away for life, like he should have. Jane knew all too well that Wade had abducted those women, imprisoned them right on their sprawling property, killed them one by one, except for the last. Oh, he knew she had been an accomplice, but knowing and proving were two different things. Her sentence would have to come later.

Someone else’s battle to fight.

He eased the horse into motion. They took the trail down to the beach. Just a short ride to clear his head before they made their way back to his cabin tucked in the grove of trees far away from any living creature except his two horses. He had two, because living things weren’t meant to go it alone, except for Mitch Whitehorse. That was why he didn’t live on the ranch property like the other hands. It was one of the reasons, anyway.

Down where the salt water scoured the beach, he noticed right away the rough gouge of sand where a boat had been dragged up onto the shore by a trespasser. No sign of the boat now.

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