* * *
Hannah Pierce Bradley sat curled on the sofa in her country-style family room. Her long, silky chestnut hair tumbled around her shoulders, pulled back from her face with a wide blue band. Her large brown eyes, fringed by thick dark lashes, intently studied the papers strewn around her. Her creamy skin had a healthy glow from jogging in the morning air. The warmth of the room’s colors and the friendly, comfortable, early-American furniture made it Hannah’s favorite place in the house. Glass sliding doors opened out onto a wide brick patio, where two shaggy mongrels lolled in the sunlight. The larger of the two cocked an ear and thumped his tail as Hannah got up and crossed the room. The dog didn’t move but watched her protectively as she passed into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and then returned to her place on the sofa, plumping the pillows and reaching for a tablet that lay on the side table. She sipped her coffee as she flipped through the pages of the notebook.
The phone shattered the stillness, and she answered reluctantly. This was going to be her day to begin work on her new series of articles. There was still much research to do, and she resented any intrusions. She reached for the phone and answered with a note of impatience in her voice. “Hello.” Her tone immediately softened when she heard Winston Caughfield III’s voice on the other end. “I’m so sorry, Win,” she said affectionately. “I didn’t mean to bite your head off. It’s just that I was about to get into my first article. You know how I am when I’m working.” She knew he’d understand as always.
His warm laugh was all the reassurance she needed. “It’s okay, and I do understand,” he replied. “But your work is why I called. I wondered if you’d seen the morning papers and thought perhaps if you were knee-deep in research you might not have. There’s a story about an accident that might interest you. Take a look at the Daily Register, page two, bottom right-hand corner. Not a big write-up, so it might not make TV or radio news, and you might miss it. Now I won’t keep you any longer from all that thinking and planning I know you’re doing. Call me later about Saturday and tell me what you think of the story.” The line went dead. Hannah unfolded her long legs and immediately went in search of the morning paper.
How very like Win, she reflected, undemanding, always interested in whatever concerned her. She pictured him this morning, his strong, even features and quick smile. He was over six feet tall, trim and athletic; only the silver streaks in his dark brown hair hinted at his age. Yes, Win was a special person, but it was still too soon. The ache and longing for Jonathan was too close to her heart, the healing process a long one. Jonathan’s death had been such a shock, so swift; one day there, the next on his way to Chicago on business, and then the terrible snowstorm and fatal flight of United Airlines 111. Engine failure in the storm. She willed herself back to the present and her thoughts of Win. Maybe with time. That’s what Win always said when they talked about their relationship. Just give it time.
She found the paper and quickly flipped to the article on page two. It was a brief account of an accident on some desolate canyon road. But what leaped out at her was the name, Vincent Rossi, and the Circle R horse farm. It was suspected that the horses in the van had belonged to him and that the van’s driver was unlicensed, driving under the influence of alcohol. A truck and horse-trailer rig the size of the one in the accident should not have been on that narrow, winding road at all. There were no survivors reported at the scene. The driver of the van, the horses, and the two occupants of the small car that collided with the van had died in the crash. The wreckage at the bottom of the steep ravine was severely burned, making positive identification of the charred remains difficult.
Hannah let the paper slip to the floor. “What a waste, what a miserable waste,” she said out loud. “Those beautiful animals carelessly killed. A crime.” The worst kind of crime, in Hannah Pierce Bradley’s opinion. A crime against harmless, helpless creatures. “That kind of scum shouldn’t be allowed to raise animals,” she muttered fiercely. “I hope they hang Vincent Rossi out on this one. And maybe I can help add some more fuel to that already smoldering fire.”
She called Win later that evening, after spending the day organizing her notes and outlines for her newest project. Most of her past work she had done as a freelance writer. But lately she had been approached by several magazines offering assignments after her tremendously successful series of articles on the brutalities of puppy mills had appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Acclaimed as the brave new voice of social conscience, she was bombarded with offers to speak at animal rights groups across the country. She declined each with a thank-you note and a firm refusal, citing her need to continue her work raising public awareness of the need for laws and strong legal action against those so willing to exploit animals for greedy financial gain.
“Those horses didn’t stand a chance.” She spoke with much feeling in her voice, and Win could imagine her soft features set in a firm, determined line. He remembered similar words when she fiercely attacked the puppy-mill owners. “Vincent Rossi should be run out of town on a rail and his stables shut down,” she said flatly. “He’s criminally abusive, and a little slap on the wrist isn’t going to change him. A fine and a few lines of bad publicity aren’t going to do any good. And you know it as well as I do, Win.”
“I do. I know what you say is true. I also know the guy is a sleazy small-time gangster. He’s not at all like his father. The Rossi farm raised some fine horses in the old days. Trained them well and raced them fairly. They were some of the best in the smaller racing leagues. Never made it to the big time but did real well at the small tracks, fairs, things like that. My dad knew old Dominic Rossi, respected him as a fine horseman. But Vince’s gone sour, bad as they come. The guy is unscrupulous and mean. Backed into a corner, you don’t know what he’ll do.”
“He’s gotten away with it too long, Win,” Hannah said firmly. “And for every one of him, there’s another coming right up behind him, willing to make the money any way they can. Ready to follow his lead.”
“Hannah, I didn’t call attention to the article because I wanted to encourage your involvement in any attempt to bring Vincent Rossi to justice,” Win said firmly. “I just knew you’d be interested and want to follow the story, that’s all. I really don’t think you should entertain any idea of digging into it. You still get threats after all those puppy-mill stories. You don’t need to open any more of Pandora’s boxes.”
“Yes, I do. The stories need to be told,” she said determinedly. “My next series is a follow-up on the adoption of the animals rescued from the mills and the outstanding efforts of the humane societies and private funding across the country that saved those dogs. Three different magazines have approached me on the follow-up stories. I started working on my outlines today. And I honestly think I should work straight through the weekend,” she finished.
“But what about Saturday?” Disappointment edged his voice. “I thought you could come out to the ranch for the day, have lunch, and ride in the afternoon. Quiet, just the two of us. All the help will be off except Mary Little Deer. She always stays at the ranch. Wouldn’t know what to do with a day off.”
“It sounds so nice, Win. Just what I need—fresh air, riding, and quiet. I’d really love to come. Let me work like crazy for the next couple of days. Without too many interruptions, I should have things pretty well outlined by then.”
“I’ll pick you up on Saturday morning. The weather should be good; forecast is for a fair weekend. Besides just seeing you, I have something I want to show you.” She could hear the enthusiasm in his voice.
“Win. You’ve done so many nice things for me already. I really couldn’t accept more right now.”
“Now don’t start that again. You know how much I enjoy being with you. I’ll look forward to Saturday.”
She hung up the phone and sat for a moment, speculating on what Win might possibly have to show her on Saturday. She smiled; she had to admit he was clever. Her interest had been piqued, and she found herself eagerly anticipating the weekend. She not only looked forward to seeing him, but she wondered just what it was he wanted so much to show her at the ranch.
Buy Now @ Amazon Kindle
Genre - Adventure / Romance
Rating - Adult
Connect with Marilyn Holdsworth on GoodReads