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M I R A B E L L E

The wheels of the plane touching the tarmac startled me awake and jerked me slightly in my seat. My gasp resulted in a strange look from the older man sitting next to me, but I couldn’t muster the strength to care. Now that I was back in Colorado, much more important things needed my focus.

He’s gone. What will I do without you, Dalton?

The thought hit me like a sledgehammer to the head. How was I supposed to go on? My brother was all the family I’d had left, and I hadn’t even been able to say goodbye. The physical ache in the center of my chest was almost more than I could bear.

The plane came to a final stop. At the ding of the seatbelt sign, everyone stood and gathered their belongings as we waited to deplane. My feet propelled me forward behind the people from my row. We moved like a herd of cattle, aimlessly following the leader until reaching the terminal. After a brief glance at the signs, I made my way toward baggage claim.

“Si said to have you pack for an extended stay.” The ranch hand who’d called to break the news of Dalton’s death, had given me specific instructions.

S I L A S

Silas Anderson was a part of my past I didn’t have the energy to deal with right now. As far as I was concerned, he could go fuck himself.

“Excuse me, ma’am.” The deep voice with a slight southern drawl took me by surprise, as I stepped off the escalator.

The first thing I noticed was a tall man in a button-up shirt and Wranglers. His brown hair was not quite dark chocolate, but not as light as milk chocolate either. Flecks of silver in his deep brown eyes made them seem so very serious. His skin was tanned like only those who worked outside could achieve.

The resemblance to the type of apparel my brother had worn made me smile. The comfortable work clothes stood out among the stuffy, stiff suits of the harried business travelers. His restless fingers alternated between running through his short brown hair and strangling the life out of his poor cowboy hat, and his boots scuffed the polished floor. He was obviously uncomfortable. I couldn’t blame him.

“Short end of the stick, huh?” I smirked.

“Pardon?” His eyebrows drew together in confusion, his lips frowning slightly.

“Let me guess, you’re here to take me to Sutton Ranch?” I asked as I walked to the carousel where the conveyor belt spit out bags. The cowboy fell into step with me, his long legs carrying him one stride for every two of mine.

“Yes, ma’am.” Though his voice was matter-of fact, humor glinted in his eyes, warming his features. The thump of the tumbling luggage brought my attention back to the revolving belt.

My palm grazed the handle of the first bag mere seconds before he plucked it from my grasp and set it on the ground. Rolling my eyes only made him laugh. The second was taken from me before it was even off the carousel. His presence was like a fly buzzing around my head. Raising my eyebrows at him in challenge, I turned back, determined to get the last one without his help. Before I got a grip on it, he hoisted the heaviest one over my head. Damn matching luggage. I never stood a chance.

“I don’t need you to carry my things,” I ground out, digging my fists into my hips and glaring at him. It was bad enough I’d had to come home and deal with everything without a chance to prepare, but I sure as shit wasn’t going to be treated with kid gloves.

Paying no mind that he towered above me, I squared my shoulders. I was aching for a fight suddenly, and unfortunately for Silas’s ranch hand, he was going to get it. He didn’t even falter, and I sure as hell wasn’t prepared for the slight lift of his lips as he stared back at me.

“What are you smiling at?” I demanded.

“Dalton.”

His quiet response took the wind out of me. My lips parted, and my breath shuddered. The fist I pressed to my chest didn’t ease the ache.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he stammered, “but right then, your stubbornness, I saw a glimpse of your brother in you. Caroline told me you’re like a mini version of him, and she was right.”

He grabbed all three bags and carried them toward the exit. When I finally caught up to him, sympathy edged his smile and sadness filled his eyes. Sudden remorse for being so harsh smacked me.

“Welcome home, ma’am.”

“Thank you, and please call me Mira.” My voice was much softer than before. Taking my anger with Silas or my sadness out on this man was pointless. Hell, if I were in his shoes, well, boots, I would feel like I’d been punished by having to pick me up.

He hefted my bags into the backseat of the extended cab truck before holding his hand out to me. Ignoring his offer of help, I hoisted myself into the leather seat, buckled up, and settled in for the hour and a half drive to Sutton Ranch.

“So, do you have a name?” I asked as we drove away from the airport.

“Sorry.” He chuckled. “I guess I forgot that. I’m Ryke Davis, one of the onsite ranch hands.”

“How many hands live onsite now?” I asked, watching out the window as the mountains grew nearer.

“Right now, it’s just my brother and me in the hand house and Si in the main house. Oh, and of course Caroline.”

I couldn’t help but focus on the fact that Silas was living in the main house. I don’t know why I thought he would be living anywhere else. The reality of having to face him was rapidly approaching, and there didn’t seem to be any way to slow it down.

“How is Caroline?” I asked instead, trying to shake my nerves and get my mind onto something other than Silas Anderson.

“She’s good. Spends all her time mothering us boys, and taking care of the house and what not.” His voice softened as he spoke of Caroline, and it made me happy the hands seemed to be appreciative of her. I sighed and leaned my head against the cold glass, watching the city disappear and the countryside emerge. “You hungry, Mira?” Ryke glanced over at me. “We can swing through a drive-thru if you are.”

“No, thank you. I just want to get home.” The words fell from my lips without a second thought. Home. Had I ever stopped thinking of this place as home?

The infinite landscape out the window left an uneasy pang in my stomach. The contrast of browns and greens floated by in a blur. The mountains in the short distance looked so immense. How had I not come back before now?

Baltimore had been a real change from where I’d grown up on the ranch nestled in the Wet Mountain Valley, on the edge of a small town in Colorado. The city was so much bigger, but I’d adapted quickly. I hadn’t really given myself a choice. I wasn’t about to go home with my tail between my legs, that was for damn sure. Stubborn pride chained me to a place that I didn’t want to be.

 
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