At Wolf Ranch

By: Jennifer Ryan



“I miss hanging with you, but not the reckless lifestyle. I’ll leave that to you, bro. See you when the cows come home.”

“I’ll be there.”

Dane clicked off. Gabe couldn’t wait to see Dane when the cattle arrived. Dane promised to help him get things set up on the ranch.

Gabe didn’t hold back the smile, thinking of Dane, his wild-at-heart brother, and Blake, living his dream, training racehorses. Gabe worked his ass off over the last three years to pull together the money he needed for his ranch, to buy the cattle, and finally have everything he ever wanted. Still, Dane’s words rang in his head. Have some fun. Seemed he’d forgotten how to do that these last years living alone at his place, barely going into town for more than supplies. When it came to the women, a few new ones had moved to town, but mostly they were the same faces he’d seen growing up, and none of them appealed.

He wanted something different. Something new. Someone who challenged him.

Eyes the color of spring grass, the same ones he’d thought of ever since he saw her, floated into his mind.





Chapter 3

Ella spent the cab ride to the airport trying to hold herself together and devise a halfway decent plan. She dug through her sister’s purse for any other clues and came up with nothing but a drawing of the heart-shaped locket they both wore. Lela had drawn tiny roses, one after another, to form the heart around their initials, L.W. and E.W. She’d drawn an arch over the heart with a rosebush on both sides. Lovely. Her sister always had a talent for doodling.

Ella held the paper to her heart, closed her eyes, and let the overwhelming sense of loss engulf her. She’d never see Lela again.

Aside from the slip of paper, her sister’s wallet, keys, her favorite scarlet lipstick, a half-eaten bag of airline peanuts, and mints, nothing told her what her sister had done over the last three days, except rent a car. She carefully tucked her sister’s things back into the purse.

Why Montana, Lela?

She squeezed the bag to release her pent-up anger. Something odd pushed against her fingers. She set the bag back on her lap and checked inside again. Nothing accounted for what she felt, so she ran her fingers over the lining and felt the outline of a rectangular card. Her sister had carefully slit the seam by the zipper and used double-sided tape to hold it closed. She pulled the lining free, revealing the fake ID tucked inside. Her sister had pilfered Ella’s fake driver’s license, which she’d bought off an artist friend who turned out to be an excellent forger of paintings and documents when the money was right. Eighteen and looking to get into some of the more exclusive clubs in the city, she’d bought the ID under an assumed name. It came in handy when she didn’t want to be Ella Wolf.

If her guess was right, her sister used Ella’s license to buy a plane ticket under the false name and rent a car. Why the secrecy? Why the need to be someone else and not leave a trail?

Whatever her sister was up to, Ella vowed to finish what she started. She too would see her uncle behind bars—or in a grave—for killing her sister, and whatever other heinous crimes he’d committed. The man deserved a hell of a lot worse for what he’d done.

She thought of all those things she and Lela had talked about doing now that the next chapter of their lives was about to begin. Run the company. Travel to distant lands and explore the world. Fall in love with the right man. Get married. They’d serve as each other’s bridesmaids. Have babies. Live full lives until they were old biddies drinking tea and sharing photos and stories of their grandchildren.

She swiped the tears away as easily as her uncle had taken away that future.

In six weeks, she turned twenty-five, and if she didn’t put her uncle behind bars, and he succeeded in framing her for Lela’s murder, he’d take over the company and holdings her parents left to Ella and Lela. He’d get everything and have the power and money to get away with murder.

Never going to happen. Not as long as she still had a breath in her body.

“We’re here. What airline?”

Ella checked her sister’s ticket stub, the one breadcrumb she’d left. “United.”

The cab pulled up in front of the departures terminal. Ella didn’t hesitate. The sorrow filled her, but with her grief she felt a profound sense of purpose. She marched up to the ticket counter, handed over her fake ID, and booked a flight to Bozeman, using the cash she gathered between her bag and her sister’s, which left her with little more than five hundred dollars.

The flight didn’t leave for two more hours, but she’d get to Bozeman by three in the afternoon. She hoped to get to the ranch to begin her search for whatever her sister discovered before it got dark.

The monotony of the security line only gave her more time to think. She didn’t want to let her mind take her back to the penthouse library and her sister’s lifeless eyes, but the scene played out again and again in her head. She couldn’t stop it.

So many what-ifs came to mind. She second-guessed everything she did and didn’t do. What if she stepped in to help her sister? Why didn’t she call the police? What if she found the evidence her sister said she had and it still wasn’t enough to arrest him? What if he got away with killing her sister?

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