She’s hiding from a psychopath. He’s hiding from life. Will they survive to find love?
Depressed by injuries that have sidelined his career, Heathcliffe Honeybun heads to a Dude Ranch for some "alone" time. But the ranch’s pretty activities director isn’t about to let him mope. And if her charms don’t keep him interested, Nita’s dark and dangerous past most certainly will. Especially when it looks like Heathcliffe has a killer’s target on his back.
Heathcliffe called his cousin Peyton on the way to the guest ranch and found out he wasn’t there.
“I had some business to take care of in Texas,” he told Heathcliffe. “But I just hired a new activities director. A young widow. She can get you settled. The main and bunkhouse are full through the weekend, but there’s a cabin in the woods you can have for a week or so.”
“That’s perfect. I don’t want to do anything while I’m there. Except maybe some riding and ice fishing. I don’t need company.”
Peyton laughed. “Good luck with that. Nita’s very dedicated to her role as “director” of activities. You’ll be lucky if she lets you go to the bathroom alone.”
Heathcliffe frowned. “We’ll see about that.”
“Yeah. We will, won’t we?” There was laughter in his cousin’s tone and Heathcliffe was a little worried about it. He pressed the button on his dash to disconnect the call. The day darkened another shade and raindrops started pinging off the windshield.
“Great. Perfect.” He rubbed his knee, where pain had become an almost permanent fixture, and tried to think of something to cheer himself up. He couldn’t come up with anything.
It seemed that everyone around him was happy and in love. All the talk of weddings and babies had started to get overwhelming. Heathcliffe had broken up with his latest in a long string of casual girlfriends only a couple of weeks earlier and he found himself unwilling to try again.
For reasons he didn’t care to explore too deeply, he’d become soured on love. He’d decided it was highly overrated and none of the women he’d been with over the years had given him even a tiny percentage of the feelings his brothers seemed to be experiencing with their honeys.
He certainly couldn’t imagine going through what Edric had just experienced for one.
Speaking of Edric, Heathcliffe’s phone pinged and he picked it up, opening the message he’d just received from his brother. It was a picture of Bella, rosy cheeked and smiling widely, with baby Honeybun in her arms. The baby looked much better unplugged, without all that nasty gunk all over her tiny body.
She was asleep, the feathery arcs of her eyebrows resting peacefully against her pink cheeks. One tiny fist was outside her blanket, clenched tightly as she slept.
Heathcliffe found himself grinning at that fist. The kid was gonna be a fighter. Maybe she was a Honeybun after all.
But she still looked like an alien.
The skies opened above the Jeep and Heathcliffe had to settle the phone onto the seat next to him and put both hands on the wheel. For several minutes he could only move forward at a crawl, the thick sheet of rain almost completely obscuring his view of the road ahead.
By the time he’d turned off the highway, onto the gravel road that would take him to the Honeybun Guest Ranch, the rain had finally started to abate. He inhaled as he drove through the overarching curtain of trees that bordered the mile-long drive, savoring the unique scent of the country.
He had a brief moment of déjà vu, remembering his trek south the previous fall to rescue Godric and Dini from the clutches of a killer. He shuddered. By the time that was over, he’d thought he wouldn’t ever want to see another tree or smell another field spread with cow manure.
Amazing the difference a couple of months made.
On an impulse he pressed the button to open his window and sucked in a deep breath. He savored the rich scent of trees, freshly trampled grass, and even the slight aroma of manure that filtered across his senses.
The tree line ended and white fencing, framing the wide open expanse of fields, replaced the trees on either side of the gravel drive.
Dotted across the lush fields, equine heads lifted in surprise and interest as the Jeep drove slowly past. Heathcliffe whistled sharply and the horses’ ears perked. A big black horse with a thick fringe of hair on its massive feet lifted its elegant head and screamed a greeting.
Heathcliffe laughed as Noire took off running, all the other horses following his lead as he galloped, bucking around the huge field. He was glad Dolfe was wintering the big Friesian at Peyton’s place. Heathcliffe looked forward to putting the athletic horse through his paces while he was there.
The drive took a sharp turn and briefly succumbed to a line of huge evergreens before opening up again. The ranch house finally came into view. Heathcliffe drove the Jeep into the circular drive and stopped in front of the long, low log building. He sat staring at it for a few minutes, enjoying his first, in person, view of Peyton’s new venture.
A covered porch ran the length of the rambling ranch house. Fall mums, still surviving in the warmer Southern Indiana temps, provided rich, fall color from wood boxes situated under every window. Rich greenery, spotted here and there with bright red berries, overflowed from planters that were shaped like water troughs along the front edge of the porch.
He grabbed his bag and cell phone and climbed out, happy the rain had died to a trickle as he stood and looked around.
A huge fountain in the center of the circular drive featured a bronco on horseback, his hat clutched in one hand and his face stony with determination. Heathcliffe liked the fountain. In fact, he realized, as he slid his gaze over the house and grounds, he liked everything at the Guest Ranch.
“Hello! You must be Heathcliffe?”
He turned as the high-pitched voice pierced the drone of rain hitting his car, looking for its source.
She was standing on the porch, her bright red hair blowing in curly tangles around her small, freckled face. She held her hands out in front of her. They were covered in a white substance that looked like flour. The petite woman smiled as he walked toward her. “I’d offer you my hand but you probably don’t want to wear this flour.” Her giggle was even more highly pitched than her voice. Heathcliffe found it strangely charming.
He stepped gratefully onto the porch, glad to get out of the building rain. “Hello.”
“I’m Nita Harley. Peyton told me you were coming down today.” Her bright green eyes widened as she looked at him. “My goodness! You’re soaked.” Jerking her head toward the house she said, “Let’s get you inside. You can sit in front of the fire while I finish making my bread.” She turned and entered the house without waiting for his response, leaving flour in her wake on every surface she touched.
Following the softly rounded sway of her heart-shaped butt through a comfortably appointed room with a blazing fireplace on one long wall, Heathcliffe found himself grinning for the second time in only minutes.
He decided coming south might have been a good idea. In fact, as Nita Harley turned at the door, giving him a flour-covered finger wave and grinning widely, he decided it just might have been a very good idea.