Blood on the Cimarron, 2

(Part 2 of the First Chapter of Blood on the Cimarron)

She wasn’t interested.

Claire had met plenty of handsome men in her lifetime. She didn’t need or want to get to know another one, especially J.B. Floren. Something about him made her uneasy, and it wasn’t because he was a flirt. Despite his friendly banter and twinkling eyes, an undercurrent of something spooked her. She didn’t trust him. But right now, she didn’t trust men in general when it came right down to it. A few bad apples …

A scissortail flycatcher flitted down to land on a fencepost. Behind the bird, bright green prairie grass danced in the breeze beneath a dome of turquoise sky. She wiped a finger across her brow. The spring heat was building quickly.

Where was he?

The wealthy rancher more than thirty years her senior now devoted his efforts to saving the lives of wild mustangs and burros. He provided a much-needed refuge for animals removed from western rangelands. She hoped the article she was writing would be picked up by the Associated Press and go nationwide.

Had Floren forgotten their appointment? She pulled out her cell phone. No message. She thought about calling him. At two previous meetings, the rancher had been waiting, parked a few yards inside the gate in his shiny silver pickup. Not today. And none of his rescued mustangs or burros munched the sweet prairie grass nearby. The animals could be anywhere on the 1280-acre ranch, but the rancher should be here.

Claire rolled down her window; moist spring air feathered her cheeks. No choice but to wait. Her editor, Manuel Juarez, expected a polished draft tomorrow, and this was only one of the assignments on her plate for the next two days.

Ask a few more questions about the mustangs and she could finish her in-depth article for The Stillwater News Press. Twenty minutes, tops. After editing the article she’d be done with Mr. Floren. But first, he had to show up.

She punched the horn three rapid honks. Claire’s day was booked to the second. She didn’t need any delays. If she had to work late, Cade and Denver would have to scrounge for leftovers in the fridge, and there weren’t any. Neither would be satisfied with a can of soup or a PB and J sandwich instead of a cooked meal.

Claire slid out of the SUV. Gravel crunched beneath the hard heels of he boots, she felt it in her jaw. I’m clenching again. She pulled in a slow breath. Relax.

The scent of growing grass and fertile earth tickled her sinuses, and the faint odor of animal manure drifted past on the breeze.

In four long strides, she reached the blood-red pipe gate, grabbed the chain and shook it. The unlatched padlock clunked into greening weeds at the gatepost’s base. Claire yanked the chain away from the post and shoved the gate open. It swung 180 degrees and clanged against the fence on the opposite side.

She climbed back into the SUV and mashed the accelerator. The engine roared and the tires spun in the gravel. Chunks of rock rattled in the wheel wells. She steered through the opening, jumped out to push the gate closed, and scooted into the vehicle again.

(Check back for the remainder of Chapter One, and a bit of Chapter 2 later this week! And don’t forget to visit my website, http://www.marycoley.com, and fill out the contact form for a chance to enter to win a free copy of Blood on the Cimarron. You can also let me know what you think about what you’ve read so far in the comment section below.)

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