(Please note that this first sample chapter has not made its way to the editor yet. I’m simply sharing a work in progress. The edited chapter will be shared once the book is made available for sale.)
She heard the low rumble of a pickup truck coming up behind her and stepped off to the side of the road. Over the past few hours exactly two other cars had passed, both had been pick-up trucks. Josie was out of her element and she’d definitely picked the wrong road to travel. Wasn’t the first time.
Hearing the truck slowing, Josie’s fists clenched. She didn’t have a damn thing on her to use as a weapon but she had a good right hook. Or at least one that might buy her some time. Time for what, she didn’t know. She peered down the road looking for something, anything or anyone to help. There was nothing in sight as far as she could tell – just fields and fields of grass and weeds. This was supposed to be ranching country. Where were the cows? The cowboys?
The car slowed beside her. Turning, she did her best to face them with confidence. Inside Josie’s heart pounded a lonely and frightened beat. Alone on a long stretch of road in the middle of Colorado – not a safe place to be should someone decide to pull some shit.
A young boy with tanned skin and hair black hanging in his eyes leaned out the window of a dirty white pick-up truck. “Necesita un paseo? You need a ride?”
“No thanks.” With the glare of the setting sun splashing on the windshield, she couldn’t see the driver. It made her nervous to not know what she was up against. At least in New York Josie had known what she was dealing with. Out here she felt like a penguin in the desert – no idea where to turn or who to trust.
“You sure?” The boy looked back at whoever was in the driver’s seat and nodded. Josie watched as the driver’s side door swung open. The truck rocked as the person climbed out. A short curvy woman came around the front of the truck and into view. Josie relaxed. The woman’s hair was piled up into a giant bun on the back of her head. A pale blue polo was tucked into her jeans which pulled tight across her hips and didn’t quite reach the tops of her worn tennis shoes. Mom jeans. Josie met her eyes and saw genuine concern.
“Hi,” the woman said. “It’s a long way to town and you’re not on safe land here.”
Not on safe land? She looked at her feet. Was the ground going to open up and swallow her whole? “What do you mean?”
“This, both sides of the road here,” she swung her arms wide and pointed, “are owned by WR Reynolds.”
“So?” Josie knew she sounded sarcastic but really who cared who owned the land. She was parked on, and walking on, a public road.
“So he employs some folks I wouldn’t want to come across at night on a long stretch of deserted highway.”
Oh. Okay, she thought. That made sense. It’d be like walking alone at night in Brownsville or Hunt’s Point. Some New York neighborhoods missed the Mayor’s safety memo. Criminals stuck together and when they spotted a victim, well, you wanted to be anywhere but there. Josie looked at the sun leaning hard on the horizon. It would be dark soon.
“Where you headed?”
“King’s ranch. Got a job.”
“Yes.” He owed her aunt a favor and since she needed to hide from her ex for a while, getting out of dodge, aka New York, had seemed like a good idea. Of course being in the mountains during the winter probably wasn’t going to be peachy. It was the first of November and the air already held a bitter chill.
“His ranch is a good thirty miles from here. Look. I’m assuming that’s your Honda about four miles back. Right?”
“Okay. Then I can take you back to your car. You lock the doors and I’ll call road service to come pick you up. Or, you can come with me. I’m heading over to the Lonely J. It’s about five miles up the road. Noah owns the land between Reynolds and King. You can’t stay at the main house, he don’t like visitors but you can stay in the stables.”
Josie shook her head. She’d rather sleep in her car than with a bunch of horses.
“It’s heated. You’ll be safe and left alone. No one goes there since…Well no one goes in there. There’s even a fridge and a microwave. I’ve got some dinner in the truck for Noah. He won’t miss a bit if you’re hungry.”
Upon the mention of food Josie’s stomach growled. Shit.
“There’s a phone in the stables too. It’s a nice place. You can call road service. Tell ‘em where your car is and tell ‘em you’re at Noah’s. They’ll bring your car to you when it’s ready.”
Josie realized she didn’t have many options. If she could hide on this guy’s property for a night, that’d be better than sleeping in her car. “Okay. Thanks.”
The lady nodded back to the young boy who opened the truck door. Josie slid into the truck beside him.
“I’m Rosalie,” she said, hoisting herself back into the driver’s seat. “This here is Juan.”
“Well, Josie. How’d you end up in the middle of Rio Blanco county on foot?”
“Thought I’d take a short cut to the ranch. I’m from New York. Didn’t realize that you could drive a hundred miles out here and not see a town or a gas station.”
“Whatcha doin at Kings?”
Hiding. “Whatever he needs me to do I guess.”
“It’s safe to assume you’ve never worked on a ranch before?”
“Never been out of New York.”
“No cell phone?”
“No service.” She’d tried calling 911. It didn’t work. She’d even climbed up on top of her car to see if she could get a signal. That’s what you got when you bought your phone at a gas station.
“Ah. Well I’m going to tell you something about Jasper and working on his ranch. You listen to me because it’ll save your life. You hear?”
This woman was just a fountain of warnings and advice. Josie nodded. She might as well listen. She’d gotten into enough trouble, she didn’t need any more.
“You steer clear of Jasper’s son, Jay. He’s a mean spoiled son of a bitch. He runs the ranch. If Jasper owes your aunt a favor you go straight to the source. Avoid Jay like he’s the devil himself.
Great. “Thanks. I’ll do that.” Geez, she hadn’t been in Colorado but a few hours and already she was knee deep in the shit. Wasn’t there anywhere she could stay out of trouble for more than a day?
Rosalie turned her truck onto a narrow gravel driveway. A tall metal gate blocked them from going any further. She couldn’t see a house and the gate blocking their path seemed silly. It stood only about six feet tall and looked easy to climb. It was framed by wood beams. Engraved in each beam was the image of a lamp post, like an old fashioned gaslight. Above it she read the words, “Brightstreet Ranch.”
“This here is Noah’s ranch. Juan, get the gate.”
“Josie opened the truck door, hopped out so Juan could get out, and hopped back in. Juan ran to the gate, pushed a few buttons on a panel and the gate swung wide. They pulled through leaving Juan behind. “I’m just dropping you off and grabbing my other boy. Juan don’t need to get in the way.”
They jostled and bumped down the winding gravel road for what seemed like miles. They rounded a bend. Josie gasped. “That’s the ranch?” Ahead, a large mountain style home loomed against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Tall snowy peaks jutted behind the house. If it weren’t for the darkening sky and heavy storm clouds, it would have been a postcard. The house looked like it must be at least five thousand square feet. She wondered how large the Macy’s in Herald Square was in New York. Then she realized that was a stupid comparison, the store was supposed to be the largest store in the world; surely the ranch wasn’t even close to the same size. Still, it was pretty darn huge.
“Yep. Over there are the stables.” She pointed to a long magnificent building that looked to be twice the size of the home. It was in the same rustic style. Josie had expected a barn with hay and horses, not a fancy equestrian center. Rosalie pulled around to the side of the building and turned off the truck. She turned to Josie with a serious look on her face.
“Look, there’s something I wanted to tell you but I wanted to wait until Juan was outta the truck.”
“Okay?” Josie blinked. The tone of Rosalie’s voice made her nervous.
“Noah, he is a good man but he doesn’t like visitors. His crew is good and they won’t pay you no mind. But you gotta stay in the stables. Don’t go into the main house.”
Josie shrugged. She didn’t have any intention of poking her head out of the stables. She’d lie low, get her car, and be on her way. The fewer people she encountered, the better. “No problem.”
Rosalie studied Josie for a moment and then seeming to take her at her word she popped open the truck door. “Then let me show you around.”
Josie got out and followed Rosalie around the side of the building. She opened a small door. It was dark inside. Rosalie flipped on a switch and Josie found herself in a large room. With the grandeur of the stables, Josie hadn’t known what to expect. The room was comfortable. A long couch sat in one corner with a worn coffee table in front. There was a kitchenette to her left and a television sat atop a worn entertainment stand.
“It’s the staff break room,” Rosalie said. “There’s a hot pot and a microwave. A full refrigerator. There’s a bathroom, even a shower if you want. Few blankets in the closet but you shouldn’t get too cold. The place is heated to keep Clandestine comfortable.”
The horse? “You mean there’s only one horse in this entire building?”
“Si,” she said, waving away Josie’s question. “The television is here and a phone. Phone book is on the shelf. Call Smiths Road Service. Tell ‘em Rosalie sent you and tell ‘em you’re at Brightstreet’s. They should have your car gassed up and ready to go in no time. Give me the keys and I’ll drop ‘em by on my way home.
Josie dug her keys out of her pocket and handed them to Rosalie. In for a dime in for a dollar, she thought. Trusting strangers didn’t come easy for her but she didn’t really have much choice.
Thunder boomed and the lights flickered. “Storm moving in,” Rosalie muttered. “You got cash to pay for the gas and the service?”
Josie dug a wad out of her pocket. It was all she had. She counted it quickly. “I have enough.” It wouldn’t leave her much, but she could wait for her first paycheck. It wasn’t like there was any place to blow her cash out here. She should have packed some books to read, she thought. It was going to be a long winter.
“Okay, gotta get my kids and get dinner on the table. It was nice meeting you Josie. You take good care of yourself.”
With that, Rosalie was gone. Josie turned her attention to her surroundings. She went to the phone first figuring it was getting late and she should call the service shop before they closed. She made arrangements and found herself with nothing to do. She contemplated calling her aunt to let her know she was safely at the ranch, or near it anyway, but she refrained. One wrong move and her aunt would be dead. Hyde, her ex-boyfriend, had already killed one person on his hunt for her. He’d butchered her boss and left her for dead on the floor of her gallery. Josie hadn’t liked the woman but she didn’t deserve to die. The police didn’t know who killed her but Josie did. It was Hyde. He was looking for her and he’d stop at nothing to find her. Josie just hoped hiding away in the Colorado Rockies was a safe place to start over.