Read RanchersHealingTouch Online

Authors: Arthur Mitchell

RanchersHealingTouch (11 page)

It's still pitch black in the house as she moves carefully from his grip. Her cheeks are salty and wet, stripped of their plush, lustful afterglow by brute memories she's unhappy to welcome back.

She walks slowly into the kitchen, stopping carefully to wash her face. Before leaving the bedroom, she gathered most of her clothes up off the floor.

Jesus. I can't stay here like this.

I need to get my head together. I won't be the same when he wakes up – and I won't let myself see the
disappointment in his eyes.

Sadie dresses quickly, grabbing a few spare snack bars from the kitchen. Since he started paying her a regular salary, the money has stacked up nicely. In just a few weeks, she's accumulated several hundred dollars, all carefully stashed in the small black purse at her side.

This should get me somewhere I can rest and think. Maybe I just need time.

I'll tell him everything once I get to a different place. If he doesn't understand, I'll be safe. I won't
have to come back and deal with him until the child is born.

Her heart thuds painfully. Knowing she's pregnant by a man who may not want anything to do with her as soon as he finds out what she's done floods her with nauseous regret.

The storm has stopped. The first bluish tincture of daylight is on the horizon as she walks across the property, careful not to step in the huge muddy puddles dotting the landscape.

She hasn't been in the spare garage since reviewing the wreck awhile ago. Luckily, nothing is locked up in the storage buildings.

Brax knows his loyal men would never steal from him, and thieves are unheard of in these areas. She turns on a single light in the spacious workroom and looks for her car.

There's a tractor, several messy toolboxes, and a big heap with an old tarp thrown across it. Bingo.

She closes her eyes and grasps the edges of the cover. It comes off noisily.

Please be fixed. Please be fixed. Please be fixed.

The mantra feels like it's burned into her soul. When she opens her eyes, she whimpers with relief.

Against all odds, Brax's mechanic has resurrected a nearly ruined machine. She pops the door and climbs inside, running her hands across the uneven interior.

It's ugly inside, and not like she remembers. But even with all this work, a familiar scent remains.

God. Eric.

You fucking monster. You're the reason I'm in this mess. I wouldn't have to face running away again
and tearing my heart out if it weren't for you...I see my mistake now.

I haven't gone far enough to get away from this.

Another silent prayer wells up inside her as she turns the ignition. The car jerks once, and then it starts normally.

She pulls up and taps the button on the side of the wall to open the big door. The little path leading out onto his property is like a narrow tunnel formed by the high buildings.

But once she's through it, there's nothing between her and the open road.

Sadie weeps bitterly once the dirt road turns into paved highway. Still, she has to keep going, anything to bury all the demons tormenting her forever.

There's a flash of torn plastic off to the side of the road, mingling with bits of broken glass. The illegal substance that used to be inside the fragmented bag has been pulverized into the ground by wind and rain, but it hasn't wiped away everything.

The wretched reminder makes her step on the accelerator, hurling the car faster along its drive to nowhere.

Brax wakes to an empty bed. Setting the alarm was the last thing on his mind last night.

The glow downstairs tells him the power is back on, and he smiles. Perhaps she's gotten up to make some breakfast, or relax on the porch before starting the day. It's surprising that Sadie isn't sleeping in.

Guess I didn't take as much out of her as I thought last night. Well, there's always tomorrow for that.

I never get tired of making her body sing to me.

The strange quiet in the house sets his nerves on edge. The front door is open, with only the screen separating the interior from the fresh air outside.

Standing in his boxers and a shirt, he steps out onto the cool porch. Brax focuses his eyes across the land, knowing something's up, but not knowing what.

Then he catches the black pit in the spare garage, just behind the main barn.

“Hm...it's Pete's day off. That shouldn't be opened up like that.”

He pivots and runs inside, rapidly ascending the stairs to dress. Every breath pumps more energy into his system.

The rancher hopes that it's just a forgetful part of the crew going in there for spare parts. But deep inside, he knows better.

What the hell's happened? Why would she leave?

A short run over to the building confirms his worst fears. The car is gone. And God only knows how long it's been since she left, or how far she's gone.

With urgent anxiety licking his back, he climbs into his truck and tears off into the road. He barely notices the wet tracks left by another vehicle rising from a ditch, leaving its impressions on the lonely unpaved road all the way to the highway.

Navigating the Dakota plains can drive a man mad. The open land draws the truck deeper, so

expansive that it feels like he'll have to search the entire world to find her.

He curses and raps a fist on his dashboard. “She might be halfway to Wyoming by now. Or North Dakota or Nebraska, for all I know...”

He decides to keep following the highway. Sadie couldn't have hatched any plans that were too complex. He decides to go straight, the most obvious path she would've followed, not caring about anything except distance.

She's at a large truck stop filling up when she spots the black sedan. The detective's vehicle moves like a giant shark, unmistakable and edging toward her.

Shit! What's he doing here?

She rips the pump away and runs inside. The dark car stops at the pump on the opposite side.

Her worst fears are confirmed when the balding focused man steps out the driver's door and begins to fill up his tank.

Her nerves breathe fire like they haven't done since her battle with Eric. Mind blank, she saunters through the gas station and goes toward the restrooms, seeking an exit near the rear.

Opening the door exposes how helpless she really is. Behind the gas station, there's nothing but empty prairie, leading off into the large blue sky as far as she can see.

Getting away isn't so easy without having a place to run to. For now, all she can do is hide, and the tight space behind the large dumpster is better than anywhere else.

Brax is almost two hours away from Weldon Ranch when he sights the truck stop. A beaten up

Mazda is being loaded onto a rickety tow truck.

Without caring why the car is being towed, he wheels into the entrance, swearing with surprise when he sees Hank's black sedan. He's parked next to another police car and the tow truck. The detective's window is lowered as he talks to the driver, probably instructing him to haul it off to impound.

God damn. This isn't good at all. But at least she's here somewhere. She has to be.

He parks near the restaurant attached to the filling station, out of his pursuers' sights. The restaurant is filled with burly men laughing and sipping their coffee. The smell of smoke and cheap greasy food nearly turns his stomach, already on its last nerve as he desperately seeks his beautiful mystery.

She couldn't have gotten arrested so soon, or else he wouldn't be here.

His thoughts should be reassuring, but everything about this situation opens his mind to doubts.

If she has...I'll never forgive myself.

The back door slams open. It isn't the first time. Roughly an hour ago, a worker came out for a smoke break.

Sadie's nerves burn. She closes her eyes, wondering if it's the detective, coming to usher her like a reaper to one last meeting with fate.

“Sadie! Are you okay? We have to get you out of here.”

His arms are around her before she realizes what's happening. She yells and kicks her feet against his shin, more out of confusion than real resistance at Brax's unexpected arrival.

“Hey, hey. Quiet. He's here.”

Softening her sobs, she listens to his wise words. She buries her face in his shoulders. After wondering if she would ever feel him again, smelling his rich musk silences her, temporarily banishing all the deadly woes.

“Come on. We have to get back to the truck and figure out the rest...”

He swallows hard, not knowing what he'll do if any of the cops see him carrying her. He won't let them take him from her, no matter the cost. That much he knows.

It's a tense walk to the truck. Even when she's safely tucked into the passenger seat, he tries to keep her covered, throwing an old emergency blanket over her shoulders and telling her to keep her head down.

The police presence is weirdly light. They drive past the Mazda and loosen with relief when they hit the highway.

“Why did you do it? Was it something that happened last night?”

“I...I remembered everything. Finally. They're after me for a good reason.” She lifts her face, trying to get a good look at him through the tears.

“I don't understand. What's bothering you? What have you done?”

Experiencing the truth is painful enough. Baring it to another soul hurts even more – especially when it's the man she loves most.

His eyes go through several shades of fire. She tells him about her abusive brother, the final fight where she bludgeoned him, and the mad race to escape.

“I get it. You shouldn't want me after what I did...but please, don't turn me in. We're going to have a baby...”

“What the hell are you talking about?” He says, surprising her. “Your brother, Eric...if I could get my hands on him myself, I'd do a lot worse than dent his skull with a pipe. You better believe it, beautiful.

Just thinking about anyone doing that to you is making me scared.”

“Scared?”

“Yeah. I'm afraid of what I'll do if I ever catch him, or anyone like him. Even the cops...if I have to put myself between you and them, I will.”

She reaches over suddenly and grabs his arm, giving him a reassuring squeeze. They drive another mile on the highway when Brax sees an exit to another small town.

The truck whirls onto the side road and he brings it to the curb. Sadie's eyebrows lift.

“What are you doing? Shouldn't we keep going until we hit the ranch?”

“No. We can't go back there. Not when they've got the biggest piece of evidence to track you down sitting on a flatbed. We've got to get our hands on that car again before Mister Detective secures a warrant to come after
you.

Her muscles tighten. Sadie feels small and helpless, but she knows he's right.

“Is there any way we can do that? I can't imagine. Seems like we're pretty well screwed now that they've got the car.”

Slowly, Brax grabs the phone on his dashboard.

“Hello? Pete? Look, I know it's your day off, but I need one hell of a favor.” He pauses, listening to Sadie's breath hitch in the stillness. “Yeah. Way out here. Meet me on the highway.”

VII: Safe At Last

Detective Hank Gerber rubs his hand across the steering wheel, unable to wipe the wide grin off his face. There's nothing like solving a case – especially when all the pieces come together by pure luck.

He didn't expect to encounter the girl who ran drugs and fractured Eric Derby's skull in a small town diner, well over a hundred miles from the crime. Hell, if it weren't for his off duty interest in vanished suspects and evidence sparse mysteries, he wouldn't have recognized her at all.

“Stupid and inexperienced. Impulsive. Uncapped emotions get them every time.”

He can't wait to get across the border, far from the Dakota plains. Shaking his head, he wonders how anyone can make a life out here, where there's nothing but cattle and plains all the way to the next state over, and maybe farther.

When he saw how nervously the trim, pretty twenty-something girl in the diner reacted to his questions, he knew something was up. Still, getting time off from the chief to come back to South Dakota and pursue the case wasn't easy.

Except for the stolen car, nothing about the assault that led to capturing a major drug dealer was clear cut. They only had Eric Derby's word alone to go off of – and it would be extremely suspect in any court of law, considering the intermittent comas and nonsense speech that came out of his mouth.

Even the murder weapon had vanished. Hank knows it was probably the other thug at the scene – the anonymous caller who saved Eric's life.

No honor among thieves isn't just a saying. It's the truth.

When the paramedics and police found the young man crumpled on a dirty basement floor, he'd lost more than just a lot of blood. The other dealer had taken as much of his illegal cache as he could make off with, and probably the weapon too, knowing it might make him a suspect in the assault and robbery if they connected the dots back to him.

He's almost to the Minnesota border when his phone goes off.

“You've got to be shitting me. Gone? How the hell can a thing that can barely run just disappear on its way to impound? Get me the driver, now!” He pauses, feeling his face redden with rage. “Okay. I'm on my way.”

He angrily slams the phone into the passenger seat. The black sedan cuts through an empty lane as it spins a U-turn, dragging him into a fiasco that feels like it'll never end.

Sadie struggles to keep her eyes on the road. She's following the small Mazda to the ranch as quickly as she can, fighting for control over his massive pick up truck, a vehicle unlike anything she's driven before.

Pete's beaten up LTD can't show up soon enough. The Mazda's weakened horn blares several feet ahead of her. She sees Brax lifts his hand and wave, urging her to pull over with him.

Less than a minute later, the brown car shows up and the old mechanic steps out to join them, looking strangely amused. Brax pulls him close, wrapping his arm around the man's shoulder.

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