chapter 1

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Jake paced down the hall to the spacious study. Outside the door, he lacked the purpose he’d summoned earlier. She’d be in there, he supposed. He’d made up his mind, hadn’t he? Levi was feeling better, and Jake could say nothing to make amends to Kat. They quarreled and after bitter words, she isolated herself from him. He stepped inside the room and shut the door. Kat didn’t acknowledge him. It was a harsh reminder of how he’d jumped to the wrong conclusion. She flipped over a page in the expense ledger. “I’ve decided it’ll be better if you stay here during the roundup. I don’t want you to risk another injury.” He was a man of his word; it killed him to back out of his offer. She had to see her safety meant more. Kat snapped the ledger closed and rocked back in her chair. She responded matter-of-factly, “Whether you want me to go is of no consequence. I’m the owner of the Lucky Chance, and my responsibility is to understand the process of the roundup. If you don’t show me, Dallas will.” “Kat, be reasonable. Another injury to your ankle could take weeks to heal.” “I’ve made up my mind.” She shrugged and flipped the ledger open to a full page of figures. “I have work to do. I’d appreciate it if you’d leave me to it.” Her head turned to the ledger. # The roundup brought ten additional wranglers to the ranch. Most mornings, long before sunrise, their work began at Calf Creek. Jake chose this section for branding and rightfully so, the creek flowed through a boxed canyon, and the canyon made an ideal corral. Once the wranglers fenced off the entrance, it was easier to sort the cows. Jake tried to concentrate on the four-legged critter fighting the branding iron, but his mind kept straying to Kat. He glanced in he... ... middle of paper ... ...He squinted and gritted his teeth. Ignoring Jake’s threat, Dallas heaved him to his feet, keeping a tight arm under his good shoulder. “She tried—to kill me—dammit.” Jake’s words slurred. “Men, let’s get him to the wagon. Somebody find a bottle of gut warmer.” Jake’s knees kept giving away. A wrangler thrust a flask of whiskey to his lips. Four of his men crowded around him, two of them grabbed his legs, and the other two lifted his shoulders. Aghast, Kat reeled from the implication. She was innocent. The rattler slid into the creek, she saw it fall. How did she strike two objects at the same time? His accusation whirled in her mind. Terrified he might die, Kat followed the procession of men to the chuck wagon. # Grizzly Duvall cursed as he watched them haul Masters to his feet. The rancher had to die. Surely, he couldn’t endure a gunshot wound and live.

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