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Come Hell or High Water



 

 

Dedication

 

For Shelby, Gracie, Sydney, and Livy. Follow your dreams.

 

Acknowledgments

 

I am indebted to the following people for their help. My beta reader and number one fan, Catherine Heer for her advice and comments. WPCA chuck wagon driver Jordie Fike for his help with all things to do with wagon racing. Any errors are mine. Special thanks to Dr. C.D. Bell, B.Sc, DVM, MVetSc, DACVS, for his help and information regarding all things veterinary in this work. Any errors in the translation from doctor speak to layperson are mine. This book is better for their involvement and I am most grateful to them.

Chapter One





C’mon, Storm.” Michelle Wilson waited for the three-legged dog to make her way toward the truck. The black dog loped along in her own peculiar gait, tongue lolling out of her mouth.

Doc’s wife, Mary, followed her down the path. She waited while Michelle got the dog settled in the truck and then leaned against the fender. “I’m worried about Luke, Chelly. He won’t slow down and he’s wearing himself to the bone.” She wasted no time in sharing her fears out of the hearing of her husband of forty years.

“Is he still not feeling well? I know Cale is taking as many calls as he can to spare Doc from going out at night.” Michelle glanced toward the surgery attached to the house behind Mary. “You need to hog tie that man of yours, woman.” She smiled and patted her friend’s arm.

I might as well try and rope the wind. You know what he’s like, stubborn as a mule and twice as ornery if you push too hard.”

Do you want me to ask Cale to speak to him about taking it easier? That’s why he agreed to take him on as a partner in the first place.”

In theory, it sounds good, but Luke just can’t seem to step back. I’m afraid he’s going to drop in the traces one day. I made him an appointment with Doc Lewen but the old fool keeps finding excuses not to go.” Mary dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her apron.

If you’re really that concerned, I’ll talk to Cale when he gets home later. He’s got surgeries most of the day. Maybe we can finagle a way to get that locum vet who was here at Christmas to come in for a bit. Can’t remember her name at the moment. Rodeo starts soon and you know how Doc loves to hang around the chutes with his buddies.”

Mary brightened. “That might just work, you know. See what your Cale thinks about that. By the way, have you seen Rob lately?”

Not hardly. That boy needs to keep his ass home with one he married and quit nosing around me. He dumped me, for crap’s sake, and I’m so done with him. Now he wants what he can’t have. You’d think he’d have his hands full with Kayla and those dressage horses of hers. Why do you ask?” Michelle frowned at the match making older woman.

“Kayla dropped in the other day to pick up some wormer and some of Luke’s special liniment.”

“And…” Michelle prompted.

Well, it’s just she was asking if you’d mentioned anything about Rob hanging around the old place. Sounds like he’s been coming home pretty late, and sometimes not at all. What with rodeo about to start and her going down the road in a different direction with those fancy horses of hers, I imagine she’s a mite worried.”

First off, it’s not his ‘old place’ anymore, it’s Cale’s now and there’s no reason for Rob to be hanging around. I haven’t seen him at any rate, so you can tell Kayla to bark up another tree. I think that boy did me a good deed when he dumped me. I don’t envy her trying to keep tabs on him. Lord knows I tried for enough years.”

“You’ve got a good man in Cale Benjamin, Chelly. Don’t do something stupid if Rob Chetwynd comes crawling back with his hat in his hand. He always could wrap you around his little finger.”

Michelle opened the truck door and slid into the driver’s seat. Depressing the clutch she started the engine. After rolling down the window she closed the door. “Mary, the chances of me taking up with Rob again are slim to none. I’m not the starry eyed idiot I was, and I see him for what he is. He’s got that bad boy cowboy charm thing going on, but he’s not in it for the long haul. I’m surprised that girl got him as far as the altar to tell you the truth. He must have been stinking drunk.”

“How did that happen anyway? Why weren’t you in Vegas with him, you two fightin’ at the time?”

As usual, George was away at the rigs and I couldn’t get anyone to mind the stock while I went gallivanting off to the NFR. I had a hard enough time getting up to Edmonton for the CFR in November, remember? That was a royal waste of time as far as spending time with Rob was concerned anyway. He was off with his drinkin’ buddies and running around most of the time. He was acting strange even then. I should have known something was up.”

You think he was cheatin’ on you at Canadian Finals before the National Finals Rodeo in Vegas?”

I didn’t at the time. Just thought Rob was bein’, well, Rob. If you know what I mean. Now, yeah, I think he was eating grass on both sides of the fence. That might even have been where he met Kayla for the first time, I’ve never asked her about it.”

“Might be best to let sleeping dogs lie, Chelly,” Mary advised.

“You’re probably right. But, back to Doc. I promise I’ll talk to Cale about seeing what he can do to get Doc to slow down some. I gotta go, Mary. You take care and call me if you need anything.”

Mary stepped back from the truck and waved as Michelle pulled out of the gravel parking area behind the clinic. Storm squirmed to get comfortable and laid her head on Michelle’s knee. She turned the truck south when she reversed onto the road. The parking lot of the hotel was full of big bikes when she passed, probably guys down from Calgary for a drink. She shook her head. The allure of straddling a noisy machine when you could be riding a horse escaped her.

Road trip, Storm. Gotta go to High River and pick up some feed for the horses.” Michelle turned left onto the old Coal Trail road that cut across country between the two towns. What the hell is Rob up to now?” . The black dog sighed and closed her eyes. “I know, dog. It’s none of my business and I should stay out of it.” Storm opened one eye and yawned. Michelle reached to turn up the radio at the same time her cell phone rang. She punched the button on the hands-free even though it didn’t identify the caller. If it was a marketing call she was in just the mood to rip a strip off them. “Hey.”

“Chelly, hey, it’s me,” Rob Chetwynd’s voice crackled over the connection.

“Rob? Why the hell are you calling me?”

“Chelly, I need help. Can you come pick me up?”

She glared at the Bluetooth for a moment and shook her head. “I’m halfway to High River, where are you, and for God’s sake why didn’t you call Kayla? You know, the girl you married?”

Rob mumbled something unintelligible.

“What did you say? Where are you? What have you done now?”

“I’m at the cop shop in Okotoks…I need a ride.” His tone was self-pitying.

“Where’s your truck? Look, I’m almost to High River. I gotta pick up some feed. Why can’t Kayla go and get you?”

“She’s mad at me…again.”

“Probably with good cause, Rob. Can’t you call your mom, then?”

“She’s on Kayla’s side, even though she’s still pissed at me for dumping you like I did.”

“Where’s your truck?”

“It’s impounded. I got caught in a check stop and—”

“Rob, for God’s sake! How stupid are you? You could have killed someone…”

“I know, I know. Kay already read me the riot act and told me to walk home,” he sounded aggrieved. “C’mon Chelly, you always used to bail me out. Just this one more time, for old time’s sake?”

She debated for a moment, torn between common sense which said to let him rot where he was and her old ingrained habit of bailing him out whenever he got in over his head. “Fine. I’ll come after I finish at the UFA.” She broke the connection and slammed her palm on the wheel. Damn idiot, driving drunk. He must have a million angels watching over him. Michelle considered calling Kayla, but dismissed the idea. The last thing she needed was to hear her belly ache about what a dink her husband was. Like I don’t already know. She pulled into the UFA and picked up the supplies in short order. Gritting her teeth she turned the truck north on Highway 2A toward Okotoks.





Chapter Two



 

Michelle pulled into the Tim’s drive through on the south end of Okotoks and ordered a medium double-double and an extra-large black coffee along with two donut holes for Storm. The big dog wolfed them down and licked her chops. Michelle snugged the coffees into the cup holder and ruffled the dog’s hair.

I must be losing my mind helping the idiot out. Maybe I should let him walk home.” She giggled at the thought. Signaling, she pulled out into traffic and drove straight to the RCMP station. Telling Storm to stay, she parked in the shade and left the window down a bit. Rob met her at the end of the sidewalk, just inside the glass doors.

“Chelly Belly! I knew you’d come!” Rob hugged her and planted a sloppy kiss on her cheek.

God, Rob! You reek. Don’t call me that stupid name anymore or you will be walking home. What rot gut have you been drinking?” She disengaged herself from his clutches and turned on her heel. Without waiting to see if he was following she stalked back to the pick-up and opened the door. Rob arrived at the passenger side as she slid into the driver seat.

Dog, get your ass in the back. Go on, git,” Rob demanded wrenching open the door.

Storm, stay,” Michelle ordered. “You get in the back, Rob. I can’t stand the stink of you, and I like the dog’s company better than yours.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Rob raised his eyebrows, stopping with his hand on the door.

“Nope, dead serious. Either get in the back, or start walking.” She grinned at the incredulous expression on his face.

Grumbling under his breath he climbed into the back seat, stretched out and covered his face with his Stetson. Michelle had hardly left the parking lot before snores emanated from the rear of the cab. Storm huffed, turned around a couple of times and collapsed on the passenger seat with a sigh of contentment. Michelle turned up the radio to drown out the snores from the back seat and made good time as she headed back south.

She pulled into the Esso on the north end of Longview and parked. “Rob, wake up. Where do you want me to drop you?” The recumbent figure in the back mumbled and tried to roll over. “Rob!” She turned and smacked him until he whipped the hat off his face and sat up.

“Leave off, Chelly. I’m up. What do you want?” He rubbed his face and blinked at her with bleary eyes. “Where are we?”

“The Esso in town. Where do you want me to drop you?”

“Hell, I don’t know. I sure don’t want to go home and get my ear chewed off by Kayla.”

Your mom’s, then?” Michelle put the truck in gear.

“Shit, no! She’s just as bad. I’ll come out to the ranch with you. I can crash in the old bunkhouse—”

“Not happening, cowboy. I’ll drop you at the Twin Cities. You can figure it out from there.”

Chelly, Chelly, what’s happened to you? Where’s my sweet little buckle bunny?” He half-climbed into the front seat and attempted to kiss her.

Sit down, you ass. I’m not your anything, and I was never your buckle bunny.” She shoved him hard enough to knock him into the back seat again. Before he could mount another attack she gunned the engine and pulled onto the blacktop. It only took a minute to get to the south end of town where she stopped at the gravel entrance to the hotel. “Get out.”

“Aw, c’mon, Chelly—”

“Get out, now,” she ordered.

“I don’t wanna.” Rob crossed his arms over his chest. “Make me.”

Oh for the love of God…” Michelle got out and stomped around to the other side. Wrenching open the door, she grabbed Rob by the ear and hauled him out. He landed in a heap on the gravel. “I said, get out!”

“Not fair! You used Mom’s old trick.” He attempted to stagger to his feet.

Michelle shoved him back down, slammed the rear door, and strode back to the driver side and got in. Before he could scramble to his feet she punched the accelerator and spewed gravel as she left the lot. Storm, roused by the noise, sat up and peered out the back window.

“Don’t worry about it, girl. Let’s get home and start chores.”

Passing the vet clinic she noticed Cale’s truck was still parked out back. Hopefully, Doc was spending some time with Mary and not out running the roads doing farm calls. Ten minutes later she turned onto the ranch road. She passed by the lane to her childhood home. Stacey must be making out all right with George back on the rigs. Michelle hadn’t gotten any panicked phone calls for help in the past week from the city girl her brother had taken up with at Christmas. What her brother saw in the woman was beyond Michelle. She might be shacked up with George, but Michelle was pretty sure the little blonde still had her sights set on Cale. Just old friends, my ass. If Cale believed that line of bull, she certainly didn’t. The engine growled as it geared down for the steep incline into the coulee and up the far side, rounding the curve she drove through the gatepost proclaiming she was entering the Chetwynd Ranch. Cale really needed to get around to changing that. There just hadn’t been time before the winter set in when he’d bought the place last fall.

It was kind of weird living with Cale in the house she thought she’d be living in with Rob after they were married. Life was really surprising sometimes. Who would have thought Mrs. Chetwynd would sell the ranch. It was true Rob never showed much of an interest until after the sale was final, but he’d been on the rodeo road so much he was never home anyway. Mrs. Chetwynd didn’t want to stay there alone after her husband died, and it was beyond her to manage the livestock and maintenance by herself. Something Rob didn’t appear to have taken into consideration.

Good for us though, right Storm?” Michelle smiled at the animal beside her. Storm woofed and put her paw up on the dash peering through the windshield. “Yes, we’re home, mutt. Your crazy puppy will be needing to go for a pee.” Michelle pulled up by the chicken coop, let Storm out, and released Crazy Puppy from the mudroom of the house. I really need to figure out a better name for that hound. She waited while the dogs did their business, taking the opportunity to check on the cows down in the lower pasture and the horses in the corrals by the barn. When the dogs were done, she let them into the mudroom and closed the door. It only took a few minutes to transfer the feed from the truck to the feed room in the barn. She threw the horses some hay before heading to the house. Although the weather had warmed in the last few weeks it was a dry spring and the prairie still held to its buckskin colour tinted with just a hint of new grass. If they didn’t get some moisture soon she’d have to haul another round bale down to the lower fields in the coulee for the stock. The wind picked up as she crossed the yard sending dust devils spinning across the hard packed ground.

Knocking the dirt from her boots she jumped up the two steps to the porch and let herself into the mud room. Storm thumped her tail and stared at the door to the kitchen while Crazy Puppy spun in circles. Michelle removed her coat and boots and let them both into the warm kitchen. She glanced at the clock. Three o’clock. Cale wouldn’t be home for at least a couple of hours, maybe more depending on the surgeries, and if there were any emergency calls. Crossing the kitchen she entered what had been the parlour at one time, Cale had turned it into an office. Humming under her breath she opened the laptop on the old oak desk. Leaving it to boot up and connect to the internet, she went back to the kitchen and filled dog’s dishes. Once the dogs had eaten, Michelle put fresh water down. The youngster galloped around the room yelping at his mother. Storm pinned him down with her one front paw and proceeded to wash his face. Chuckling, Michelle started the coffee pot and stuck her head in the fridge to see what the possibilities were for supper. Leftovers, she decided. Gramma’s hash looked good. Left over beef, some potatoes, and vegetables. No prep, she’d just start it when Cale got home. That taken care of, she went through to the office and called up the database for the ranch program.

Pawing through the papers scattered on the desk she found the needed data on the bred cows and set about entering it. She paused to turn on the lamp when the natural light faded. Glancing out the picture window she smiled at the golden orange sunset. Rising, Michelle stretched and wandered over to kneel on the big chair by the window. Resting her chin on her arms on the back of the chair she gazed at the ever changing spectacle in the western sky. Across the coulee, lights winked on in the Wilson homestead. It was still half hers, really. But George and his little blond were welcome to it for the moment. No way she was going to live under the same roof as Stacey, not when it was pretty clear she was still interested in Cale. Besides, it was nice living here with Cale, making new memories with him to chase out the old ones of her childhood infatuation with Rob Chetwynd. Not that all the memories were bad, of course. She had loved Rob’s Gramma Harner, and Mrs. Chetwynd had always been kind to her, still was when it came to that.

She shook her head and stood up as the light faded from the sky and the first stars peeked out in the dark heavens. Looked like another clear night, might still get some frost. Good thing it was still too early to hurt the hay crop. A glance at the clock showed it was almost six o’clock. Cale must be held up with an emergency. Well, better him than Doc. A frown creased her forehead remembering Mary’s worries of earlier. Doc wasn’t that old—she stopped and considered while doing a quick calculation—it didn’t seem possible. The old vet must be close to 70, he’d always seemed invincible and ageless. Although lately he hadn’t looked well, getting a bit breathless when he talked sometimes, letting Cale do most of the surgeries. She bit her lip. Mary was right. Her old friend did need to go see Doc Lewen. She’d talk to Cale when he got home and see if he could convince the older man to see reason.

Picking up a sheaf of papers from the shelf over the desk, she closed the ranch program on the computer and opened Cale’s invoicing program. Storm wandered in with her offspring and made herself comfortable on the thick rug by Michelle’s feet. “Might as well make myself useful, eh dog?” Cale never seemed to have time to keep up with the paperwork.

Engrossed in the intricacies of the billing and posting payments Michelle cursed when Storm scrambled to her feet barking. The puppy added his shrill yelps to the flood of noise. The kitchen door shut with a bang, she pushed back the chair and got to her feet.

“Storm! Leave off, it’s just Cale. Pipe down, both of you. I’m in the office, Cale,” she called.

Footsteps sounded in the hall as she turned to save her work and shut the program. Finished she looked up and froze. “What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded.

“I saw the vet’s truck over at your old place and figured you might be lonely.” Rob leaned a hip against the door frame effectively blocking the exit.

“Well, you’re wrong. Get out. Go home to your wife.” Beside her Storm crouched belly to the floor and growled low in her throat.

“What, you gonna sic that tripod mutt on me?” Rob laughed and took a swig out of the flask he pulled from a back pocket.

“Storm, no.” The dog quit growling but kept her lips peeled back from her teeth. The puppy yipped from the safety of his mother’s side. “Have you quit drinking at all? How’d you get here anyway, the cops still have your truck?”

Can’t you shut that mutt up? Hurts my ears.”

The puppy is fine, which is more than I can say for you. Move out of the way and I’ll make some coffee. You shouldn’t be driving when you’re pissed to the gills.” She shoved at him to make room in the doorway. “You need to get out of here before Cale comes home.”

Rob grabbed her arm and yanked her toward him. “I told you, he’s over at your old place with that little blonde who’s shacked up with your brother. I’m bettin’ he won’t be home for a while, if you know what I mean.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

“Let me go, you jackass. If Cale is over there it’s because some animal needs tending. Nothing else.”

Ah, Chelly Belly, you always were a trusting soul. C’mon, let me keep you company, for old time’s sake.” Rob dipped his head and tried to kiss her, his lips sliding off her cheek when she turned her head. “Is that anyway to treat your first love? A little messing around won’t harm no one. I’m thinking that’s what that Stacey girl had in mind when she called the office.”

“I said, let me go,” Michelle warned. Rob grinned down at her and slid his arm lower, grabbing her butt.

“You always did have a fine as—”

Michelle’s knee crunched into his groin at the same time she whacked the side of his head with the heel of her hand. He let her go abruptly and slid down the wall. She stepped over him and headed to the kitchen. Storm followed by leaping over the prone figure, the puppy however, decided to gnaw on his boot before clawing his way over. Rob slouched against the door frame half supported by the wall. He kicked feebly at the puppy while clutching his abused anatomy and muttering curses between groans. She spared him a glance before pushing the kitchen door open and stepping through. Served him right, the ass. A thread of guilt worried its way through her anger. Maybe she shouldn’t have hit him so hard…No dammit, he got what he deserved. Rob had no right to come marching in and assume his advances would be welcome.

Water splashed out of the glass carafe as she filled it at the tap. Anger and frustrated annoyance coursed through her, setting her hands to shaking. Mumbling curses, she slid the pot unto the hot plate, filled the coffee maker and flipped it on. She kept an ear cocked for sounds from the hall. Surely, he should be up by now. She hadn’t hit him that hard. Damned if she’d go check on his well fare.

The coffee was ready when Rob limped into the kitchen. “That was unfair, woman. Takin’ advantage of me when I was only giving you what you asked for. We’ll never have us no babies if you keep that up.” He slumped into a chair at the table and put his head in his hands.

Michelle slapped a mug of black coffee in front of him. “How drunk are you? I want nothing to do with you. I’ve told you to leave. And, no, we are never going to have babies. You’re married, remember, and not to me, thank God.”

“Aw now, Chelly darlin’, that was a mistake you know? You were pestering me about having kids and all that other stuff—” He peered at her through bleary eyes.

“All that other stuff? Like you boinking every buckle bunny that came your way when I wasn’t with you? Like putting off the wedding date again and again? The only mistake was me not figuring out what a dink you really are. Drink the coffee and get out.”

“You’re a hard woman, Chelly. You can’t throw me out of my own home. You always wanted to play house with me before, remember?”

It’s not your house, jack ass. I have no intention of playing house with you, as you so quaintly put it. I’m calling Kayla to come and get you.”

“C’mon, darlin’, don’t be so hard to get along with. No need to call the wife, unless you’ve gotten way more adventurous…you into a threesome?”

“That’s it, Rob. I’m done!” She grabbed the mug of steaming coffee and dumped it on him.

“Bitch!” He surged to his feet and tackled her. They landed in a heap on the floor, Rob on top. Michelle squirmed and bucked in an attempt to dislodge him. He caught her hands over her head with one large hand. “That’s it, show me how much you want me. You never used to like it rough, I must say this is an improvement.”

He lowered his head and ground his mouth over hers forcing her lips open and attempting to shove his tongue in her mouth. She bit his lower lip hard enough that she tasted blood. A gasp escaped her and annoyance turned to fear when he ripped her shirt open with his free hand in retaliation. Michelle cursed herself as the exhalation allowed Rob to get his tongue in her mouth. She stilled for a moment, maybe if she quit fighting he’d come to his senses. Instead he shoved her bra up and pawed at her breast, pinching hard enough to leave a mark when she thrashed in protest. Suddenly, he was gone and Michelle opened her eyes, gasping for breath.

“What the hell is going on here?” Cale held Rob by the collar, twisting the material tight enough to half strangle him. He glared down at her before dragging Rob out the door and throwing him down the steps. “Don’t come back here. I’ll call the RCMP and have you charged with trespass if you show up here again, is that clear?” Cale thundered.

Rob picked himself up as Michelle reached the door and peered out from behind Cale. “Don’t be blamin’ me ‘cause you can’t keep your woman satisfied. She made the running, I only obliged her. For old time’s sake.” Rob winked at Cale. “Quite the spitfire you’ve turned her into, she wasn’t ever that wild when I had her.”

Cale pulled out his cell phone and started dialing. “You have exactly two seconds to get in that truck and get out before I hit send,” he threatened. “Michelle, get back in the house, and for God’s sake cover yourself up. Let me deal with the Lothario.”

She shrank back from the anger in his voice and rigid stance of his shoulders. The pieces of her shirt were pulled together over the remains of her bra. She stumbled back into the kitchen and collapsed into a chair at the table. Her hands shook so badly it was all she could do to tie the tails of her shirt together. Really, she should go and change, but her legs refused to hold her. Storm slunk into the room and pushed her head into Michelle’s hand. Absently, she stroked the big head and then lifted the whining puppy into her lap when he bumped against her leg. She should call Kayla and warn about the state her husband was in. In that mood he was sure to show up and demand his marital rights from her. If Kayla didn’t show him the flat side of a frying pan up the side of his head she was an idiot. Michelle wished she’d had one to hand a few moments ago.

Fumbling for the phone in her back pocket she managed to dial Kayla. She waited impatiently for the woman to answer. “Kayla, it’s Michelle. Rob was just here and he’s stinking drunk. If I were you I’d lock the door and not let him in, but that’s up to you.”

“Why was he out there? I haven’t seen him last night, was he with you the whole time?” Kayla’s voice rose to a shrill pitch.

“Not a chance. The idiot got a DUI and called me to come and pick him up at the cop shop in Okotoks. They impounded his truck—”

“What? The bastard was driving my truck. I’ll kill him when I get my hands on him.”

You might want to wait until he’s sober so he remembers it. Right now he’s crazy drunk. I dropped him at the Twin Cities earlier and I have no idea how he got a truck to come out here. He was so pissed he seemed to forget he didn’t live here anymore. Cale just sent him packing. Look I gotta go. Be careful, Kayla. Rob can be a mean drunk sometimes.”

You mind your own man and let me handle my husband. I’d appreciate it if you’d quit coming onto him. He’s married to me, or have you forgotten?”

Michelle stared at the blank screen in disbelief. Coming onto him? What load of crap is he feeding her?

“So, Michelle. You want to explain to me what was going on here? I don’t appreciate coming home to find you screwing around on the kitchen floor. If you’re not happy here, just say so.” His expression was carefully blank, only the rigidity of his body betrayed his anger.

“Are you kidding me? Screwing around? He was trying to rape me for God’s sake!”

“So you say. I’m sorry, Michelle, but it’s all over town how you’re still hung up on him and not over getting dumped.”

“That’s not true! I am over that jackass. I told you I love you, isn’t that enough?”

“Those are just words, Michelle. What am I supposed to think when I find you half-dressed rolling around on the floor?”

“You could try believing me! You’re a fine one to talk anyway. Do you think I haven’t heard about you and Stacey?”

“What about me and Stacey?” His voice was so low it scared Michelle more than if he’d yelled.

Everybody is quick to tell me they saw the two of you having lunch at the Steakhouse and having coffee at the café. Even tonight, you were over there before you came home. It’s almost nine o’clock, what was so important you couldn’t come home?”

“One of the mares had trouble foaling, your brother lost a mare and foal tonight. That’s what I was doing. Stacey was upset and worried about telling George, so I stuck around until she got hold of him. As for the rest of it, Stacey and I are old friends, friends, that’s all. I’ve told you that over and over—”

“And I’ve told you over and over, I’m over Rob Chetwynd. But you don’t believe me.”

“And you don’t believe me. Maybe we’ve made a mistake, Michelle.” Cale sounded weary all of a sudden. “I think it best if you sleep upstairs for now. If there’s no trust, what the hell are we doing?”

“Cale,” she began.

“Not now, Michelle. I can’t, I’m too tired to think and I’ve got a full day tomorrow.” He walked past her toward the hall door.

“Cale,” her voice was small, “do you want the ring back, then?” Tears choked her throat.

He stopped as if she’d shot him. Without turning around he leaned a hand on the door frame. “No, Michelle. Just you think about what it is you really want and then you decide if you want to keep it or not. Then we’ll talk about what I want.”

He continued on out the door, and Storm, the traitor, went with him. The puppy trailing behind his mother stopped in the doorway and looked back at her over his shoulder before disappearing into the shadows of the hallway.





Chapter Three

 

 

Michelle turned over and thumped the pillow for what seemed like the millionth time. The sky was lightening outside, pale gray light spilling through the window panes. A quick check of her phone revealed it was almost 5 am. Spring on the prairies meant long hours of daylight as the seasonal clock wound its way toward the summer solstice.

Knowing that sleep wasn’t an option, she got up and padded over to the window. Fresh tears came unbidden as she looked out over the sweep of land coming alive under the strengthening daylight. Across the deep slash of shadow that marked the coulee, the Wilson home place was still in darkness. Stacey must find it lonesome over there by herself with George away so much. It didn’t seem to make sense the woman would stick around just to do chores and keep the place up while George was gone. Her brother was no big catch in Michelle’s estimation. No, she’s staying there so she can be near Cale. She twisted the diamond and gold ring on her finger, slipping it on and off. Returning it wasn’t something she wanted to do at all. But was she being fair to Cale? Maybe he was right and she wasn’t really over Rob, childhood sweetheart and first love, and all that clap trap. She rejected the idea as soon as it crossed her mind. Whatever lingering romantic feelings she might have had for Rob Chetwynd were gone. Running her hands up and down her arms, she shivered. The boy she grew up with had changed into someone she hardly knew or recognized.

Dressing quickly, she stole downstairs and started the coffee for Cale. Before any sounds came from the front bedroom she crept back upstairs. She wasn’t ready to face him just yet. More tears blurred her vision when she re-entered the bedroom she’d camped out in last night. How could he think she encouraged Rob? Honestly, as far as she could see, she’d never given Cale any reason to distrust her. How was she supposed to control what people gossiped about, for heaven’s sake? Longview was a small town and the extended ranching community that surrounded it was fairly close-knit. Like any small place, everyone knew everyone else’s business and felt it their duty to comment on it.

Cale’s footsteps sounded in the hall below and the click of Storm’s nails told Michelle he was up and about. Her heart stuttered when the steps halted at the foot of the stairs. She let out the breath she’d been holding when he continued on to the kitchen. Unsure whether she was disappointed or relieved, Michelle jammed the pillows up against the headboard and made herself comfortable, knees drawn up to her chin. She waited while Cale took Storm and Crazy Puppy out to do their morning business. She grinned, they really had to come up with a better name for the little dog. Nobody seemed to want the mutt, so it looked like he’d be staying with his momma. Her grin faded. Wherever she went, the dogs were going too. Storm was hers.

The growl of Cale’s truck leaving the yard pulled her from her reverie. Better call Mary before she got wind of this latest fiasco. The shrill of the phone had her jumping up and racing down the stairs. How did that woman find out so fast?

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