She inhaled deeply as the brothers walked out of the barn, trying desperately to get her temper back under control. Something had just snapped when she’d heard Evan telling Cash to leave her alone. She didn’t want him to leave her alone, and those feelings were so foreign to her, she wanted to explore them while she was here. Because soon enough, she would be home, wherever that was, and away from Montana and Cash and all these good feelings.
She wanted to feel them for once.
“I hate that that happened.” Cash was looking at her, the intensity of his eyes on her making her insides dissolve into mush. All the anger at Evan was gone now.
She loved that Cash didn’t apologize for it. He was taking her words to heart.
“It’s okay. I needed to set some boundaries, anyway.” She shrugged it off, and Cash raised a hand, slowly, stroking her neck.
“I had a good time last night.” His voice was a soft rumble as his eyes tracked his hand’s movements across her skin.
“Me too.” Indie felt herself melt into his touch, and she craved more, but now wasn’t the time, and the barn wasn’t the place, not when everything
was suddenly awake.
“What do you want to do today?” His eyes darkened a little. The heat in them made her flush. She knew what she wanted to do today, but wasn’t certain how he felt about things. He’d seemed to vacillate between wanting it and not wanting it last night, and she wasn’t sure what she’d done wrong.
“Maybe a ride to the creek again? I know it’s probably boring because you live here or whatever, but I like it.” She bit her lip and looked at their feet, her boots next to his boots. The contrast in sizes and styles obvious and kind of funny.
“I like it to, when I’m with you.” His hand on her neck curled around it, and he tugged her closer.
She looked up at him, and he was looking at her mouth now. He licked his lips and his eyes darted up to hers. “I will make it good, if you still want
it. No squeaky bed. You’ll be in control of everything.”
Indie didn’t even have to ask what he was talking about. She could see it written all over him. From the bulge in his jeans to the erratic pulse in his neck, to the eyelids at half-mast.
“I still want it.” She swallowed thickly. “I still want you, Cash.” Her voice sounded so damn funny, but she didn’t care.
Slowly, his lips descended on hers. They were soft, and all-consuming. Deftly, they molded to her mouth, moving against it gently.
But she didn’t want gentle. Somehow, he’d gotten it into his head she was fragile, and she wasn’t. Indie knew what she wanted, and it was Cash.
She pressed her body against him and sucked his top lip into her mouth, nipping at it lightly with her teeth.
It was as if she’d unleashed something when she did that. His hand around her neck gripped tighter and a low groan rumbled out of his chest. His other hand went straight to her ass, as his mouth opened up and his tongue swooped inside hers.
Indie wrapped her arms around Cash’s neck and raised up on her toes, desperate to feel the hard length pressing against his jeans. As if reading her mind, he obliged, lifting her up and turning so she was against the barn wall.
And he was kissing her for all he was worth. His kisses were consuming, mind-numbing, and made her an animal.
His mouth was hot and smooth. It was a contrast to the man, whose outward appearance was cool and rough. But he also was a man who didn’t lose
his control, ever, and now his kisses made him seem like an animal, some primal beast.
And she loved it.
Indie clutched at his shirt, even as he pressed her against the wall with his hips, holding her with one hand, his show of strength breathtaking. His other hand tugged the neckline of her shirt down, and he kissed her collarbone, while Indie’s hips took on a life of their own.
She could feel him, hot and ready in his jeans, and that arousal spurred her on. Her pelvis mashed against his, and she started rubbing up and down his length. A low growl erupted from Cash’s throat, and something inside her tightened.
Indie was gasping in air, suddenly there was none in the stifling barn, and Cash’s mouth on her neck and chest was everything.
The sensations rocketing through her core were unparalleled, and she wanted more. Her hands fisted his shirt at his back as she rocked against him. Cash had gone still, letting her do her thing, as he breathed heavily into her chest.
It was as if she were having an out of body experience. She could see herself acting like a cat in heat, but didn’t care as long as this exquisite pressure between her thighs would do something. She didn’t know what was about to happen to her, but she needed to find out. It was almost a pain, but not quite.
“Take it, Indie. Come for me.” Cash’s words were breathless, as if he was trying to control himself, and suddenly, a blinding pleasure overtook her. Indie clamped her legs around Cash’s slim hips, and cried out as her movements became more frantic and she lost herself to the sensations.
When she came back to reality, Cash’s neck was corded with restraint, but his eyes held a look of pure awe.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Indie.” He gently lowered her to the ground. “That was,” he swallowed and ran a hand through his hair as he looked at his
feet, then back up to her. “That gave me something to fucking dream about at night. Thank you.” Then he kissed her again, his hands in her hair, his lips devouring her soul.
She realized he hadn’t gotten anything from that, but he didn’t seem to care as he ended the kiss and took a step back. “I need to go to the bunkhouse and get cleaned up before I work Piper this morning. But I am taking you to the Creek after lunch. We’ll continue this.”
Mia hated that she was going to have to be the one to take Indie off the cloud she was obviously floating on when she walked out of the barn, but as the younger girl walked toward the porch of the main house, Mia toyed with the bag she’d found last night.
“Hey Mia,” Indie called out as she climbed the steps to the porch.
“Hey, sit,” Mia patted the seat next to her on the swing as she held up the bag so Indie would know what was coming. “I’m not going to lecture you,
or ask if you’re okay. Promise.”
With a put out sigh that only teenagers could master, Indie flopped into the swing. Mia got it. She’d been through stuff too. Stuff she didn’t like to talk about, but found it healing anyway.
“Look, I know what this is for, and I just wanted to talk to you a little bit. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, and I’m not looking to heal you in fifteen minutes. Just listen to me, okay?”
Indie kept her eyes on the ground, but nodded, so Mia just dove into it.
“I was kidnapped and raped and had a really dark time. I don’t know the details of why you do this, because it’s not my business, but I understand it. Believe me, I do.” Mia wanted to reach for the girl, but refrained. While Indie wasn’t breakable, not with the suit of armor she wore all the time, Mia knew she was hurting. “But Jordan saved me, in so many ways. He physically rescued me. But then he did it in an emotional way as well, helping me see that broken me was just as beautiful as the “whole” me.” She took a deep breath. “I know you don’t think we’re family. You don’t think we care as much as a family would, and I don’t know if you even have a family outside of your mom, but we are hear for you. It looks like Cash is too.
Use us. Let us all help you. We may not be able to heal you, but we love you anyway, broken, cracked, whole, it doesn’t matter.”
Indie looked up at her, and the girl met her eyes for possible the first time ever. Impossibly green eyes stared back at her, the depths of which Mia
fathomed, and hated. She hated that she understood the pain she was going through. She hated that this girl was going through the pain.
“Did you know I run a coffee shop with another victim of the same bastard who took me? Grounds for Redemption is our baby. We donate money to
victims of sexual abuse, and we’d love to help you in any way we can, whether it’s donations, or giving you a job, or counseling, or whatever. If you don’t want anything, I totally understand. If you just want to talk and hear my story, or tell me yours, that’s fine too.”
“Sex. Can you talk about that?” The girl’s voice was a whisper, and Mia leaned forward.
Unsure exactly what Indie might want to talk about, she answered hesitantly. “Sure. I’ll tell you whatever I can.” She wasn’t about to go into specifics about her and Jordan, but she understood there were issues with sexual relations and feeling normal after a traumatic experience.
God, how she understood.
“I don’t understand what’s normal anymore, if I ever did.” The green eyes were piercing Mia, daring her to judge. “But Cash makes me want things
I never realized people could want.”
“Do you want him to harm you in some way?”
A violent shake of Indie’s head was her answer, and Mia was relieved. She did not know how to have a conversation about consensual sexual hurting with a girl who was barely legal and not even her own child.
“Do you want to harm him?”
A scoff. “No hurting of any kind. But it’s like I want him, all of him, all the time. I can’t stop thinking about him. About what it would be like to be with him, and I feel so stupid for thinking and feeling the way I do.”
Relief flooded Mia. This was love. Puppy love. Young, normal love.
“Listen, honey. That’s totally normal. It’s gonna hurt like hell when you have to leave, if that’s how you feel about him, and that’s what everyone’s
worried about. But you’re only young once, and you’ve been through something traumatic. Be with him, but be safe about it. You have condoms?”
Mia shook her head no. “I’ll get you some, I think I have a few in my bag, but Cash probably will have them.” She refused to feel awkward about this, so she continued. “Have fun, live your life. This is supposed to be a vacation for you, and whatever has happened in the past is in the past.
Don’t let yourself feel stupid for these things.”
Indie offered her a smile. “Thanks.”
“Let me keep this?”
“No.” A slight panic entered Indie’s eyes, and Mia gave the girl her bag back.
“Okay. Were you going to use it last night?”
Indie nodded, her eyes back on the ground. “I realized I was pregnant last night.”
“Well, that doesn’t change anything I said. You can make decisions when you get home. Enjoy now, okay?”
“You are loved, Indie. You wouldn’t have been invited up here if you weren’t.”
Christ. She was pregnant. And Mia could only assume it was a baby of rape. She sighed heavily as she watched Indie go inside with her bag hugged to her chest. She could hear Flo banging around in the kitchen as the door opened and closed behind Indie.
She hoped like hell she hadn’t been wrong in her advice to the girl.
Indie was touched by Mia’s words. She had no idea what had compelled her to open up to the beautiful woman who should have intimidated her.
Instead, Mia’s enormous dark eyes had exuded a kindness and sympathy that Indie couldn’t resist. She didn’t have any need to tell the woman anything, especially anything as indefinite as what she felt about Cash, or the fact she was pregnant. Mia had to know it was Ron’s baby, or at least not Cash’s. They hadn’t been here that long.
But it was almost a relief to tell her. Mia had surprised her by telling her story. She knew it was an attempt to get her to open up. Indie had seen the
fear in her eyes when she first sat down. The fear that the bag evoked. That was why she didn’t want her mom to know about her cutting. She couldn’t stand to see that look in her mom’s eyes. But her mom would also be disappointed, and Mia hadn’t been. There had not been a trace of
displeasure in the woman’s eyes.
Only understanding, fear, and a touch of sadness. Because she knew.
That was why Indie had opened up. She didn’t think Mia would go blabbing to Jordan or Evan. Maybe Paige, but for some reason, Indie thought
that might be okay.
She’d never had sisters.
It was funny. Earlier this morning, the thought of having a brother had been awful, if a brother would act all possessive and shit like Evan had acted
with Cash. But a sister to confide in? That was different. She thought having a sister would be awesome. And Mia was acting like her ideal sister would.
She rode the warm feelings up to her room and hid her bag before taking a shower and going back to her room to call her mom.
Indie was eating a biscuit sandwich with eggs and bacon over the sink from a plate of leftovers on the counter later that morning. She was surprised
she could eat anything, because nerves were killing her. As she ate, she looked out the window, at Cash working Piper, looking in control as he led the horse through her paces around the corral.
His control over the beast only served to ratchet her nerves higher, as she anticipated that afternoon, and all his unspoken promises. Would the promises live up to last night’s fantasies? Of course they would, if this morning was any indication.
It had been her first orgasm with a man. And as she watched Cash, who had just shed his overshirt in favor of the black tank top he wore under it, his biceps flexing with the movements of the beast he was training, his eyes laser focused, she couldn’t help but imagine it was on the first of many with
Footsteps behind her broke the fantasy she was trying not to indulge in. Paige strode through the door, looking effortless in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, managing to make the ensemble look elegant in spite of its casualness.
“Hey, Indie. I just got off the phone with your mom. Good news!” Paige’s smile was almost infectious.
“I know. I talked to her this morning too.” She had successfully moved, and Mom hadn’t seen any signs of Ron around the new place, so it looked
like everything was working out for the best. She had moved to Taylor, a suburb northeast of Austin, so Indie’s commute would be brutal, but doable, when she started her internship.
It was a life a month ago she had been excited about, but now just seemed so meh. She couldn’t get excited the way everyone else seemed to. Her eyes returned to the window where Cash was ignoring Piper, rope dropped to the ground by his feet, as he slugged a giant bottle of water. The horse, stood there, not moving, waiting for her next instructions.
The thing was, Ron was a patient man. He’d waited over a month after Indie’s mom had broken up with him to start coming around the house when she was gone. She was afraid now he was just biding his time. A tickle started in the skin on her arm, and she shoved the rest of her sandwich in the garbage and tugged on her sleeves.
“What are your plans today?” Paige dropped herself into a chair at the table.
“Me and Cash are going to the creek after lunch,” she muttered, her eyes not leaving the man, as he lifted his tanktop to wipe sweat off his face. Indie’s eyes widened at the display of abs, as they crunched and curled with the movement.
Indie felt her shell reforming around her again. Thoughts of Ron and the tickle on her arm told her she was going to need some alone time. And soon. She had to get herself under control or the tickle would morph into more.
“Mmm … the creek is pretty,” Paige mused, and Indie felt a crack in the new armor. She was grateful for the image, since it made the tickle go away, but she didn’t want the woman to know she and Cash had stumbled on her private moment with Evan. Indie had thought about it a lot since then. It had truly been a beautiful thing, the pleasure they brought each other. It was so different from her own experience, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Cash and her’s lovemaking would be the same.
Heat pooled in her insides at the thought, and she realized she was standing with her legs together, pressing against the counter top.
Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to relax and sit at the table next to the woman who was being so nice to her.
She was starting an internship in Paige’s company soon, and was pregnant. She still hadn’t totally processed that fact. The fact kept popping up in her head at the weirdest times, and she’d shoved it back into a box in her brain, unwilling to dwell on a baby inside her. It still didn’t seem real.
She didn’t know who she should tell, if anyone. Indie couldn’t believe she’d actually said the words aloud to Mia. She’d told Mia a bunch in that short conversation.
But she couldn’t tell Paige. Not yet. She respected her opinion too much. Paige was a strong, independent woman, most of the time. She’d seen the woman defer to Evan enough to know she didn’t necessarily wear the pants in the relationship, but they seemed to share the responsibilities.
Indie wasn’t sure how Paige would react to knowing about the baby, especially because Paige knew about Ron.
The tickle came back. Indie scratched at it before it turned itchy.
“Are y’all going to have a picnic?”
“Probably not. We’re going after lunch. But I really don’t know.”
“He seems like a nice guy. And he’s not hard to look at.” Paige spoke with a wisdom that implied she was dropping the coding secrets of John
Romero or Ron Gilbert instead of cooing over a guy.
She appreciated the attempt at girl talk, but she couldn’t really get into it. This trip had done a lot for her, in terms of her emotional weirdness, but in the last twenty-four hours, she’d realized she was pregnant, thought of Ron entirely too much, and almost cut herself again. She’d had her first orgasm with a man, made plans for more, and only had about a week left of this heavenly trip. The sense of impending doom was fierce.
She’d have to go back and live her real life soon.
“Are you okay?” Paige asked, looking at Indie’s arm. “Did you get into something?” Indie realized she was scratching like her life depended on it.
“Uh, no. Just a bug bite or something. I’ve got some ointment in my room. I should go put some on.” She stood and left the room before Paige
could say another word, afraid she would let that woman in as well.
Cash had missed Indie at lunch, so after wolfing down his sandwich he took off to find her. He’d been looking forward to their creek expedition all damn morning, and would be sorely disappointed if she suddenly decided against it. It had taken a cold shower and a hand job to get rid of his erection after this morning, and he’d worked Piper a little bit harder than he’d intended to keep his mind off the girl.
But now it was time for their “date” and he couldn’t find her. He tamped down the tendril of disillusionment curling in his gut as he knocked on her
door to find her bedroom empty. So he went outside and looked around the barn.
She wasn’t in the hayloft, nor the last stall. He walked all around the outside of the barn, and didn’t see her anywhere. But he found Jordan.
“Hey man,” Evan greeted him as he stood from where he was bent over the engine of the Jeep. He shut the hood and wiped his hands on a rag before stuffing it into his back pocket and motioning for Cash to lean against the hood next to him. Cash obliged, a bit warily.
“What are you doing?” He asked, eyeing the Jeep hood.
“I was gonna change the oil while Evan’s meeting with the Sheriff.”
“Do you think he’ll tell him anything?” Cash didn’t know the new Sheriff that well, only that he seemed to be a hit with the ladies and didn’t mind
tying one on at the bar on Saturday nights. Neither of those character traits seemed to benefit a Sheriff, but what did he know.
Jordan shrugged in answer. “Don’t really know until he tries, right? If he doesn’t, Evan’s liable to hack into his databases and get what he wants anyway.” Jordan chuckled. “Hey, I wanted to apologize about this morning. He overreacted because he’s a little protective of Indie. She’s had some shit happen, and just needs a vacation away. None of us don’t want her hurt.”
He was the one who would hurt when it was time for them to leave, but they had over a week left, and he was going to enjoy it while he could. If he could find her.
“It’s just that she’s got scars. Emotional ones. Maybe physical ones. And she hides herself well so people can’t hurt her.” Jordan said quietly. “I don’t know her well, but I can see that much.”
Cash nodded, appreciating the sincerity, but Jordan not really telling him shit he didn’t know.
“Yeah. I got that. She’s told me some.”
“You like her?” Jordan was looking at him square in the face, as if daring him to deny it.
“Yeah. I more than like her.” Cash returned the quasi-glare, daring Jordan to say shit about his feelings.
Instead, he clapped Cash on the back. “Then embrace the scars she shares with you. Let her know they make her beautiful and not broken. Make sure she knows that.”
Something weird choked Cash a little, and it reminded him of something from his stint, something he hadn’t thought about in over a year.
A little girl, her face so scarred she was only recognizable as a female from her clothing and hair. She had walked up to him and held his hand to her chest, not speaking a word. Cash had tugged her into a hug, a reflex he didn’t want to control. Something had happened to her, and she’d obviously craved the human contact. He couldn’t deny it to her. It wasn’t until after he’d felt the explosives strapped to her body that he realized she’d been a trap.
But the explosives hadn’t gone off. They’d been a dud.
He’d been lucky. Or something divine had intervened. He had thought about it all too much in the weeks that followed the incident. Had some deity saved the girl? Or him?
The girl had immediately been taken into custody, and Cash never knew what happened to her. It had been a mystery to him. One of many.
Was that what was happening now? Was this a second chance for him to save a girl who’d been scarred beyond recognition? What had Indie been like before all this had happened to her? Could he find that girl again?
Did he want that girl? Or did he want the Indie he knew now?
Jordan still sat silently next to Cash, watching him absorb his words and reconcile them with the thoughts screaming through his head.
He needed to find Indie. A sudden urgency compelled him to move and find his girl.
Indie sat on the floor of the greenhouse, with her back against the pole holding up the plastic sheeting. She could smell various herbs and grassy
smells. She knew there were tomatoes and lavender in the greenhouse because she’d been told earlier in her visit. But right now, she wasn’t seeing anything.
She was processing.
Her kit was out, everything laid out where she could take stock, examining the shining stainless steel. She marveled at how clean it all looked in the
sunlight, ready to take away her dirty feelings. Shiny steel, glinting cold, ready to bleed out the filthy heat inside her.
Indie had pulled her sleeves up, scratching at the scabs, ready to make new ones. She had stolen a towel, and currently had all her supplies laying on
it. She would splash her blood on the towel instead of the porcelain sink and hope it had the same affect.
She’d never done it this way before, but privacy was difficult to come by inside the house.
Indie had tried. Honestly, she had. She’d left Paige and gone to her room to process things, but the more she thought about the pregnancy, the more the idea of something living inside her made her feel like she had to get it out. Not the baby, but the other thing living inside her.
The darkness that wriggled around and squirmed and itched. That’s what she needed to get out.
If she could get that out, she could process the pregnancy better.
As she stared at her implements, the two razor blades, the alcohol wipes for the cleansing sting, the bandaids, the clean rag, she felt the stirrings of anticipation. These things made her clean.
Indie picked up one of the razor blades and examined her arm, looking for a good spot. Movement in the corner of her eye had her freezing as she
saw a pair of cowboy boots standing in front of her.
He didn’t say a word, and she couldn’t look at him. Frozen, she was a tableau of pain. Degradation. Self-destruction.
He would leave now. And never talk to her again. Repulsed.
She deserved it.
He was too good for her. She was damaged.
Her stomach roiled, and the filth inside her was stirred up, muddying everything.
A tear tracked down her face, dripping off her chin, marring her clean towel.
More movement, and her eyes rose, despite her wishes. She did not want to see the disgust in his eyes. Nor the pity.
But she looked anyway.
Cash was sitting in front of her. He didn’t look repulsed at all. He looked … curious.
His eyes were staring at the blades in front of her, going back and forth from them to her arm, still exposed.
He saw her scars. The scars she’d been making for years to get the dirt out of her body.
Cash picked up the other razor blade, turning it over in his hands as if it held the mysteries of the universe.
Then he spoke words she didn’t quite understand.
“We’ll do it together.” His words were low, yet the strength in them was astounding.
He held the blade to his forearm, mirroring her.
No apologies whatsoever.
In silence, Indie pressed the blade to her arm, watching with fascination as the blade sank into the flesh. She put more pressure on the blade, drawing
it up her arm until it pierced the flesh, leaving behind a rivulet of crimson.
He hissed low and she saw him doing the same thing.
She could have laughed at the ridiculousness, but instead, more tears tracked down her face as Cash grabbed her hand and pressed his forearm against
Bleeding together. His mixing with hers.
She knew right then, she would never make herself bleed again.
His blood was hot, and seemed to fill her with strength. In her mind, she imagined his blood rushing into her cut, imparting some essence of Cash
into her body.
If she cut herself again, she would be getting rid of that. She now had a part of Cash inside her for the rest of her life.
He had given her that.
She choked back the sobs as she finished the ritual, the alcohol wipes, the bandaids. But she didn’t do the part where she squeezed the blood out and
watched the crimson drops on the towel.
She didn’t want to get rid of the blood. She wanted it to stay inside her.
Looking at Cash’s arm, seeing the blood smeared across it, a mixture of the two of them, she realized something.
No matter what they did the rest of the trip, they were a part of each other now. She could go home, knowing he was inside her forever.
She cleaned him up, using an alcohol wipe on his cut, listening to him hiss again. She blew on the sting, not wanting him to hurt because of her.
Then she put a bandaid on his arm, packed up her things, busying herself to avoid looking at him. Finally, she couldn’t avoid his eyes any longer and looked up at him.
He was watching her intently, his brown eyes full of depth as they moved between her eyes—back and forth.
Then, he stood. Silently watching her the entire time, and Indie’s stomach plummeted. She’d scared him and he was going to run away. Go back to
his horses that didn’t do disgusting things like cut themselves to watch dirty blood come out.
He held out his hand to her and she looked at it.
“Wanna go for a ride, now?”
In total shock, she reached for his hand and allowed him to pull her up.
Cash followed Indie’s horse, for once not staring at her ass as it moved in the saddle. Instead, he stared at the back of her head, that long black braid falling down her back, swaying with the movement of the horse she rode. Her shoulders were deceptively wide for her petite body, proudly carrying a weight she shouldn’t have to bear.
What had happened to make her slice her arms up the way she had? He may never know, and he wasn’t going to ask. But it hurt him to see her hurt herself. He could only hope he’d reacted a way that didn’t make her retreat back into her shell.
She’d been silent since he’d found her. The entire experience, she hadn’t said a word, and that had moved him more than almost anything else. She could have gotten mad at him for invading her privacy. She could have gone back up to her room, ignoring him. She could have had any number of
reactions, but instead she’d allowed him to join in.
Fucked up. But it seemed like the right thing to do. He needed to share that with her.
It was instinctual, to not let her do that alone. And it felt right, the slickness of their blood together. He still felt the reminder of the experience in the
sting of his arm, a phantom burn that would stay with him a while.
He couldn’t believe she’d done that. Not the cutting part, although that was enough. But, no, let him see it. She hadn’t hid it. Denied it. Apologized for it.
The conversation with Jordan came back. Something fluttered inside him. She’d shown him her scars. And he’d followed Jordan’s advice,
But now, he was forcing himself back to the present, as he watched her, wondering what she was thinking.
They rode in silence until they reached the creek, Indie leading the way. After they’d dismounted, Cash broke the silence.
“Did I mess things up between us?”
Her green eyes flashed with intensity. “You made them more between us. It’s not just mine anymore.” Her voice got quiet. “We share it now.”
He got it. He shared the pain—whatever it was she went through when she cut herself. He went through it too. He could see it. The catharsis of watching himself bleed. The red represents so much to him bringing back a host of memories. What ifs. What if that scarred little girl had succeeded. What had scarred her in the first place? He remembered her face-the straight scars, made by a large blade. Her blood had poured against her skin, just like his did. Just like Indie’s.
He wanted to ask her about it. Why? How often? But he would satisfy himself with the fact he seemed to have helped her a bit.
Earlier today, Cash had totally imagined himself pressing against her and burying himself in ecstasy. Right now, though, he found himself following her blindly.
She walked under a Willow tree, parting the branches with almost an ethereal quality as she floated along. She seemed more at peace than he’d seen
her. Sitting at the base of the tree, she dug her hands into the dirt.
Without a word, he did. Curiosity ate at him as he helped her dig. Eventually, she stopped and sat back on her heels. Then she pulled that bag out of
a pocket in her hoodie and Cash wondered if she was about to cut again.
He wasn’t sure he could let her do it again.
But she dropped the bag into the hole they’d dug and looked at him again.
Together, they buried it.
The Sheriff’s office was a run-down temporary building that looked like it had been there for years. Sheriff July seemed to embrace his Old-West name, as he wore an actual revolver on a low-slung gun belt, something that fascinated Evan, even though, as a regular gun-user, he saw the impracticality.
Man probably didn’t see much action.
He had his suspicions about July, having heard all the rumors around town about the man, which was why he was here today. Evan was under no
illusions the man would actually tell him anything useful about the horses his dad was missing.
“Mr. Rocco.” July held out his hand to shake.
“Sheriff,” Evan muttered, squeezing July’s hand in a display of strength. There was absolutely no reason to pretend this wasn’t a pissing contest.
July winced a little then led the way down a narrow hallway covered in paneling and cheap, stinky carpet to an equally gross-looking office.
“Can I have some coffee or something?” Evan asked before sitting.
“Uh, sure. I’ll be right back.” July left, and Evan quickly slipped a tiny USB device into the man’s laptop, the only sign this office had seen the twenty-first century. The USB would clone his computer while they talked, and hopefully Evan could get it back into his pocket before he left. He would just need about ten minutes for the little thing to do its work.
A minute and half down, July came back to his office with a small Styrofoam cup and a handful of pink sweetener and powdered creamer.
Judging by the smell coming from the tiny cup, it would need all the help it could get. Without a word, he began slowly tearing the packets open and dumping them into the cup. Finally, July spoke.
“I understand you’re upset about your dad’s stock getting stolen, but it’s an ongoing investigation, and I’m not at liberty to discuss it with civilians.
I’m sure you understand.” The man’s smile was disingenuous at best.
Evan took a timid sip of the disgusting coffee trying to kill some time, pretending to absorb the Sheriff’s words.
“I just wanted to make sure we weren’t going to step on any toes with our methods of protecting the herd.”
Leaning back and weaving his fingers together over a slim stomach, July seemed to be showing off his muscles. His own, passive display of strength.
“I don’t see how prevention can get in our way. What are you planning?”
Evan didn’t tell him how he was planning on going to the auction and buying more stock to see who was paying too much attention to his Dad.
Instead, he offered, “We’re beefing up game cameras and thinking of hiring someone to watch the points of egress we’ve found.” Those words would guarantee that the rustlers would find a different place to cut the fences, if July was indeed involved, which Evan would know soon enough.
“Well, I don’t see how that could be a bad thing, unless you’re planning on using that college kid y’all got out there to watch. If he runs into the rustlers, I’d hate to see what could happen to the kid.”
Yeah, so did Evan, but this seemed a little like a threat. He examined the man as he spoke. He was perfectly casual in his posture, still leaned back with his legs propped on the desk, hands over his stomach. But there was glint to his eyes and a tic of his jaw that made Evan a little nervous.
“Agreed. We’ll do what we can to keep people safe.” Deciding to change the subject and get the Sheriff back in a place he could feel confident,
Evan asked a question. “Hey, you must not spend much time in this tiny office. No windows?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty claustrophobic sometimes. I like to get out where the people can see me doing my job.” The Sheriff agreed, his posture not changing at all.
“You work a lot of hours?” Evan tried to make it sound like he gave a shit, an eager kid interviewing for a potential career choice.
“Almost around the clock,” July answered jauntily. “Even when I’m not dressed for the job, I’m constantly on duty.”
“Must get a lot of girls that way,” Evan gave the man a broad smile and conspiratorial wink. “I imagine they fall all over themselves at the uniform.”
“It does have its perks,” July returned the wink with a smirk of his own.
“I bet,” Evan took a sip of his coffee, and grimaced dramatically. “Me and my girl have been talking about moving up here to be closer to my folks, but I’m not sure how I can make a living. Cops get a pretty good salary up here?”
“You a cop?” July enquired.
“No, but going to the academy would be cheaper than setting up a decent telecommunication center, since your wi-fi in this area totally sucks.”
Never mind Evan could afford to plant wires all over this state on his own dime, he didn’t think July was smart enough to figure this out. It didn’t seem like the man had done his homework at all.
Although in about two minutes, he could find out.
“Well, it’s a liveable salary, but not the best.” July continued on the train Evan had laid out. “What do you do in Texas?”
“I run the IT department at a company in Austin.” Sort of.
“That sounds like pretty smart work.”
“It’s like anything else. There are tricks and normal issues to deal with. Very rarely does someone come up with a challenge. Like, for example, my boss right now has me digitizing everything so he doesn’t have so many paper files to deal with. It’s something I’ve been trying to get him to do for years, but he’s been reluctant until recently.” Evan shrugged. “Shit like that.”
Making a move to stand, he purposely spilled his coffee, the tepid liquid staining his pants darker than coffee really should.
July swung his feet off his desk. “I’ll get you some paper towels.”
Then the man was gone. The USB drive was in his pocket. And Evan was out the door.