At Wolf Ranch

By: Jennifer Ryan



“This is your final chance. Tell me where it is and I’ll make this quick. Refuse and I’ll take my time. You’ll know the meaning of the word ‘pain’ when I’m done with you.”

Touch her and I will make you pay.

“Go to hell.”

“Where is it, you little bitch?”

“You will pay for what you’ve done. I’ll never cave.”

“Tell me what I want to know, and maybe I’ll show you mercy.”

“You won’t . . . get . . . away . . . with this,” Lela stammered, something choking off her words. “The truth will . . . roll out. Come out.”

Something about the way she said it the first time struck Ella, but her mind couldn’t process anything right now. She slammed her palm against the elevator doors, wishing the damn thing would hurry up.

Please, Lela, get out of there.

“Last chance. Where did you hide it?”

The intensity in his voice sent a shiver up Ella’s spine.

The elevator doors finally opened. She ran down the hall to her door, shoved it open, and nearly tripped over the suitcase Lela left in the middle of the foyer. Where had she been?

Ella shoved the cell phone in her purse and turned toward the voices coming from the other room.

“If you won’t help me, I’ll find someone who will.”

Who is she talking to?

“Uncle Phillip, please. Put the gun down.”

“Where. Is. It?”

“I’ll never tell you where I hid it.”

Ella ran across the living room toward the open library doors. Her gaze locked on her uncle’s outstretched arm, the gun in his hand level with her sister’s chest. Her father’s bloodred ruby pinky ring winked in the morning light streaming through the windows.

“Tell me,” her uncle yelled.

“Never.”

“Then you’re of no use to me anymore.”

The crack of the gunshot stopped Ella in her tracks. Her sister’s eyes went wide when the bullet plowed into her chest. Blood blossomed over her cream-colored sheath dress, like some gruesome poppy. Lela wilted in slow motion into a heap on the floor. Her legs kicked in a quick jerk, and she never moved again.

Ella stood frozen, rooted to the spot just outside the library doors, her gaze fastened on her sister’s lifeless green eyes.

“Damnit, we needed her alive,” a man she couldn’t see said from inside the room. It took her a second to place the voice. Detective Robbins.

What is he doing here? Why didn’t he help?

Self-preservation kicked in and she scurried to the side of the door before the men off to the side saw her. Hands shaking, her stomach in knots, a whirlwind of thoughts circling her mind, but nothing explained why her uncle killed her beautiful sister. It couldn’t be, she denied the stark reality. She leaned over and spied through the crack between the open door and frame.

Uncle Phillip knelt next to Lela and touched his finger to her bloody neck. “If I’d had more time, I could have gotten her to talk.”

“You mean if you hadn’t lost your temper.”

Ella’s heart broke into a billion sharp pieces that slashed her soul to shreds. Her other half—gone. The emptiness engulfed her. She covered her mouth with both hands to hold back the scream of pain rising up her aching throat. Her eyes filled with tears, and Lela’s face, the same one Ella saw in the mirror each morning, swam in front of her.

Uncle Phillip stood, tugged at one shirt cuff and then the other to straighten his crisp white shirt. Her father’s ruby cuff links sparked with a glint of light from the overhead chandelier. He ran a hand over his more gray than dark brown hair, smoothing it back. Composed again, he turned to the door. Her breath hitched and stopped. She thought he saw her. His next words startled her even more.

“The stupid girl doesn’t know when to quit.” He pulled a handkerchief from his gray slacks pocket and wiped his sweaty face, devoid of wrinkles thanks to his many trips to the dermatologist for Botox injections.

“You’re lucky she called me. That she saw me as a friend.”

“Did she tell you what she found?”

“No. She asked me to meet her here. Her confidence in whatever she had on you convinced me to take her seriously. If she actually had something and shared it with anyone, you’ll go down for everything.”

“Don’t think you won’t fall with me,” her uncle threatened.

The detective moved forward, blocking her view of her uncle, and stared down at Lela. “What do you want to do with the body?”

Lela was a body. Bile rose in Ella’s throat.

Her uncle clinked open a crystal decanter at the bar across the room, pouring himself a drink of the expensive bourbon he preferred. She prayed he choked on it.

“Give me a minute to think.” The ice in his voice melted and turned less definitive and more hesitant.

“We need to find that evidence. If it falls into the wrong hands—”

“Shut up.” Her uncle sounded as out of control as she felt. Her insides in chaos, not a single thought of what to do taking shape in her mind.

“We need to retrace her steps over the last few days. Find out where she went. Who she saw. We’d have the state attorney and FBI banging down the door if she gave the evidence to anyone. She hid it somewhere. We need to find out where and get it.”

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