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Excerpt for A Reluctant White Knight - Volume 6 "Not on MY Ranch!" by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



A Reluctant White Knight

Volume 6

“Not On My Ranch!”


By

T.W. Anderson


Book Copyright 2017 by T.W. Anderson

Published by T.W. Anderson at SmashWords

Front and Back Cover Art Image copyright Bigstock.com


All rights reserved.

This book is available in print and as an e-book from most online retailers

e-Reader Edition: ISBN-13: 978-1974368853

Print Edition: ISBN-10: 1974368858


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

All references to persons, places or events within this work are fictional and intended solely for the entertainment of the reader. Any similarity to any person, living or dead, any place or event is strictly coincidental and unintentional. References to any object name, brand name, product, or service name are NOT intended to imply any endorsement, acceptance, permission granted or involvement of the owners of those objects or names in the publication of this work. References used within this work are used solely for the entertainment of the reader and have no bearing in fact on those things or places named. It is not the intent of the author to either endorse or detract from any person, place, event or product herein named. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form or fashion without the expressed written consent of the author.

I want to thank Judy Schuler, Edits Online for her professional services in editing the book, and Dixie Anderson for her contribution in story development.

PUBLISHER, EDITION, LICENSE NOTES

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, whether in whole or in part, without the expressed written permission of the author.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

DEDICATION

This book is lovingly dedicated to my wife, my sons, their wonderful wives and all my grandkids who gave me the inspiration for how different people interact, love and support one another. Only the best traits of my family were used in character development, with literary license and embellishment, I must admit.

The quirks I added!

T.W. Anderson

Author

PROLOGUE

This book is Volume 6 of the novel series – A Reluctant White Knight. Readers will find that they’ll want to pick up Volumes 1 through 5 of the series whether they read them before or after this installment of Tom Rowter and Sunny’s complicated love and dangerous acquaintances.

CHAPTER ONE

Darrell Tribos isn’t happy to be called to a meeting. He is his own man and he calls the shots. Except when “she” calls. Then he knows better than to refuse or even hesitate. She has shown him many times in the past what he can expect when he is not absolutely obedient.

It took him all day yesterday to get from his hiding place to Phoenix in time for this late-morning meeting and now she has the audacity to be late. It frustrates him to no end.

Finally, the woman walks into the restaurant like she owns the place and walks right by the hostess without so much as a word or a look her way. She walks directly to Tribos’ table and seats herself without asking or greeting him.

“You total screw up. How can you foul up so royally when I’ve made sure you have all the money and people you need?” the woman growls in a low, quiet but intense voice. She may be quiet, but she still sends a shiver down his back.

“I’m sorry. I’m surrounded by incompetence and you told me not to try to do it myself. I contracted with that Long Beach cop because Chalasar said he was his most trusted man and he’d take care of it. You told me to use him. How was I to know he was going to turn around and subcontract the hit to some drunken Neanderthal?

“Then when ‘muscles without a brain’ fails, the cop hires someone to sabotage their plane and that doesn’t even go right. That thing should have fallen out of the sky from thirty thousand feet and instead they land it in a lake and walk away? When does that happen?

“Then the cop goes rogue and tries to gun them down in Texas and gets himself killed. Look, I’ve checked. Everything indicates that the family has not made a connection to us. Everybody thinks that cop caused it all on his own. We still have the element of surprise,” Tribos replies and takes a sip from his martini.

The woman glares at the man. She can’t believe he’s drinking in front of her. And before noon? She just shakes her head and wonders whether this man is worth the air he breathes. “You don’t do another thing until I tell you to. Do you understand me?”

Her stare into his eyes makes Tribos wonder how she can be such a chameleon. He’s observed her when they are not together. She’s kind, gentle, supportive, and downright lovable. But not when she is with him. It’s been that way since before his brother died. She has been a cold heartless witch with him since his father died. And it doesn’t make any sense. Tribos had nothing to do with his father’s death. He was away at college. And his older brother was already a successful government intelligence officer.

Both he and his brother had done everything their father had told them to do. Participated only in the sports he approved. Purposely did extra-curricular activities he counseled them would build their resume. He picked out the school to attend. And what courses to take. And they had both done it well.

She has no cause to treat him like dirt and he is fed up with her attitude. But he knows better than cross her. He witnessed in person what she can do when she wants her vengeance. She made his father’s killer suffer a whole day before she finally slit his throat.

Tribos isn’t about to cross this woman and he will do exactly what she tells him to do. “What is your plan?” he hesitantly asks.

“I’ll tell you about my plan when you need to know about it. Until then, go back to Dubai and keep out of trouble. Do not!—I want to make this clear to you.—Do not take any steps to harm that family again until you have my permission. Do you understand me?” the woman quietly but firmly instructs him.

“Yes, mother,” Tribos responds like a whipped puppy.

“Do not refer to me in that manner in public ever again. I’ve told you that before and I will not have you disobeying me, Darrell,” the woman responds vehemently, stands up, and walks away from the table and out of the restaurant.

CHAPTER TWO

Ron Smith had no one that he cared about or who cared about him since he was a pre-teen. Ron saved my wife Sunny and me from a mugger’s attack a couple of months back when we were in Long Beach on business.

I’m Tom Rowter.

Now, since he saved our lives, and we figured out he is the nephew of our stepmother, Pat Charing Roapes, he has a whole big Texas family filled with people who regularly hug him and kiss him and slap him on his back like they have been kissin’ cousins all their lives.

After years of living on the streets of L.A., he is having a hard time adjusting to the change. He says he loves it. But it is still a strange world to him. As is the vast West Texas ranch he’s found himself living on.

The other change he loves, but can’t quite get used to, is not having to worry about where his next meal is coming from. Or not having enough clothes to keep him warm. Or where he is going to sleep.

He also is having a hard time telling people where he is going. Dusty, Pat’s husband, which would make him his uncle, has explained to him the same thing Sunny said. They aren’t asking in order to control him. They just want to know where to find him, and what his plans are so that if something comes up they think he’d be interested in participating in, like the cattle drive or a flight to another state, they can plan to include him.

Ron’s Aunt Pat has been a God-send. She’s told him so much about his parents that he had forgotten. After all, he lost them in the fire before he was in kindergarten. It has really helped to fill a hole in his life. To hear Pat describe the life they had on the mountain, in the cabins and among the pine and Aspen trees, makes him homesick and yet he cannot recall a single memory of his life in Colorado before his parents were gone.

But something is nagging at him and he can’t quite put his finger on it.

There is still a hole he needs to fill. But what is it?

CHAPTER THREE

My wife, Sunny Rowter, has a sixth sense when it comes to people and it serves her well. Perhaps it is from her Apache mother’s heritage. That, and her natural sweet way with people, can usually resolve things pretty quickly. It works in both her business dealings and when dealing with family.

She knows Ron has been unable to feel settled in, even though he’s been on the ranch for a couple of months now.

Fearing he’d feel like they were smothering him, they gave the young man the choice of staying in the hacienda so that he could be close to his Aunt Pat, or taking one of the vacant ranch-hand housing units. He chose to live where the ranch hands live.

Dusty gave him one of the ranch’s old Jeeps to commute back and forth from the housing area, or to head to town when he wants to. And he also found him a suitable horse to call his own.

Pat spends time with him whenever he comes to the hacienda and the two enjoy taking long horseback rides together, often.

They also encouraged him to think about what he wants to do in life. They gave him his choice of going to college, a trade school, or working on the ranch in some capacity. He’s still undecided about that and the family has agreed to give him a couple more months to figure it out.

He has participated in all the family dinners, and events like the big Easter weekend fly-in breakfast.

The Fly-In was arranged to thank all the people who had worked to search for and rescue Ron, Sunny and me when our business jet went down in the high plateau forests of eastern Arizona. And the Saturday night dinner and reception was only topped by the Sunday morning Easter sunrise worship service in the hangar, followed by a terrific pancake and sausage breakfast. The breakfast was followed by an airshow put on by a couple of friends of the family hired to perform for the crowd.

As promised, the whole extended family attended. And also as promised, Sunny and Dusty made sure that those who wanted to put together a family flying club up in San Antonio got a chance to fly in a couple of different single-engine airplanes suitable for training – both tricycle- gear and tail-wheel configured planes.

During the event Ron also expressed an interest in learning to fly. And Pat promised him flying lessons once he decides what he wants to do with his life. He realizes that he has to decide if he’ll further his education or get a job.

But now Sunny has an idea about what might be keeping Ron from settling in and she wants to hold a family meeting with the young man to talk it out.

CHAPTER FOUR

Over our normal family lunch on Sunday, after worship services, Sunny brings up the subject and asks Ron if he’d mind if the family discussed her concerns for him.

“Ron, I think I may have an idea how you might better fill some of those holes in your memory you keep talking about. Have you been back to Colorado since you were seventeen?” Sunny asks.

“No. I stayed in L.A. the whole time,” Ron replies.

“Do you think a trip back to the mountain where Pat and your folks had their cabins would help you, or would it be painful?” she asks.

“Sunny, the loss of my folks—their death—I’ve come to grips with. It was a freak act of nature that took them. And I’m sorry I don’t remember more about them, but Aunt Pat’s been able to help revive some of my memory of the short time I was with them,” Ron replies.

“Do you want to go back and visit the mountain, Ron?” Pat asks.

“I’d like that. I think that might help quite a bit. But don’t go disrupting your lives for me. I could probably drive up there any time I want to. I just haven’t really thought about it that much,” the young man answers.

“No disruption, at all, young man. Pat has spoken to me about maybe going up there and seeing the place for ourselves. We’d be happy to have you along. You got any plans we’d mess up if we went up there tomorrow?” Dusty puts his arm around his shoulder and hugs him.

“I’d like that. When do we leave?” Ron replies and his enthusiasm is quite evident.

“We’ll leave after breakfast in the morning. It’s not the fastest way of getting there, but we’ll take the helicopter so we can do some sightseeing when we get there. If the rest of the family doesn’t mind?” The old rancher inquires of the rest of the family.

“Sorry I haven’t found a business jet to replace the one I put in the lake, Dusty. I’m working on it. As a matter of fact, Sunny and I are going to take our amphibian, ‘Ducky,’ to Wichita tomorrow to look at a used Citation at the factory. We were going to invite the rest of you along, but it sounds like your trip to Boulder would be more fun for you all,” I say.

“That’s okay. I’ll call Buddy and make sure both aircraft are ready to go in the morning.” Dusty replies, excuses himself from the table, kisses Pat on the top of her head, and crosses the foyer to go to his office.

CHAPTER FIVE

“Charlie? This is Dusty. I can’t get ahold of Buddy. His phone just goes to voice mail and I haven’t heard back from him in over an hour. That’s really unusual for him. I’m a little worried about him now. Can you go check on him for me?” Dusty asks his ranch foreman.

“Ah. I’m sorry, Dusty. I thought he cleared it with you. He’s taking a week off. Said something about meeting that gal he’s had visit him a bunch of times. He didn’t say where. I hope that’s okay with you?” Charlie hesitantly inquires.

“Oh. You know that’s just fine. He deserves more than just a week off, as hard as he works. I hope he enjoys himself and I’m tickled he has found a lady friend. You don’t suppose she’s going to sweet talk him into leaving the ranch, do you?” the old rancher asks his top hand.

“I’ll be honest with you, boss. I think he’s got it bad and he’d do about anything that gal asked him to do. But I’m sure if he had any inkling that he’d be leaving us he’d give you plenty of advance warning,” the foreman replies.

“I’m sure he would too. Anyway, have Jerry, his lead mechanic, give me a call if you can round him up. I don’t have Jerry’s cell phone number in my computer,” Dusty responds.

“I’ll do that, Dusty. And I’ll email you a contact card for your computer and phone with Jerry’s information. Or do you have a message I can just pass on for you?” Charlie asks.

“Sure. I need to brief you on this anyway. Just tell Jerry that I’ll be taking the Bell helicopter to Boulder with Pat and Ron for a couple of days. And Sunny and Tom are headed to Wichita in the Grumman tomorrow as well. We are all planning to leave after breakfast. Tell him 8 a.m. And ask him to make sure the fuel tanks are full,” Dusty responds.

“I’ll take care of it, boss. You taking Pat up to see her mountain?” the foreman asks.

“Yes. But Ron is actually the one who wants to see it the most. I’ll admit I’d like to see her land up there as well. Seems funny, but it’s the only piece of land the family owns that I haven’t seen. Pat signed it over to our joint trust after we got married. I guess I should at least know where it is,” Dusty replies with a chuckle.

“Okay, boss. I’ll see you off in the morning. Call me if you need anything yet today,” Charlie concludes and ends the call.

CHAPTER SIX

Sunny has our plane on final approach to the Wichita airport and I have finished verifying with my wife that she has completed each step in our pre-landing checklist.

Together over the intercom we repeat in unison “We are landing on firm ground and so I’m going to put the wheels DOWN.”

It’s a litany that our instructor had pounded into our heads when we took our seaplane training and we always chuckle when we do it now, since I landed the business jet in the lake months ago.

As Sunny taxies the amphibian to the Cessna Customer Service Center ramp, I head back into the cabin to put on my sport coat. By the time Sunny has the plane parked and the engines shut down I have the cabin door opened and the stairs folded down. I step down to the ramp and wait to help my wife down the stairs.

As planned we had hit the floor ready to go this morning and got a good early start. We are both excited about the opportunity to replace the business jet we lost and it was good to get away from the ranch and some of the troubles it has been through lately.

As the salesman we had spoken to over the phone joins us planeside, I close the cabin door and lock it. Then I join Sunny in greeting the salesman. I comment that since the last time we had our previous jet to the service center, the company has added yet another building to the complex. We chat with the salesman and answer his questions about our unfortunate water landing with our previous jet.

“I was pleasantly surprised that it floated. And our chief mechanic tells me that if it hadn’t been for the explosion in the ‘hell hole’ that damaged the aft cabin wall’s pressurized vessel, she probably would have continued to float,” I comment.

“Our service center personnel have shown sales a couple of videos from the Internet where other planes, the same model as yours was, ended up ditching in the water and most of the time they continue to float until salvaged. But I’m sure glad you folks weren’t injured,” the salesman replies.

“Our plane served us well and the construction of it protected us in that off-airport landing. That is one of the reasons we aren’t considering alternative aircraft as a replacement. Is that the one you spoke to us about?” Sunny asks as we approach what appears to be the twin sister to the airplane I had to land in the lake.

The salesman opens the cabin door and Sunny and I start our review and inspection of the plane. We have already forewarned the salesman that, since our chief mechanic is off work this week, we were going to be slow and methodical about looking at the plane. In response, the salesman slides through the cabin divider to the cockpit, throws a switch on, and an air conditioner starts quietly purring while putting out plenty of cool air.

“Now that’s something our last plane sure needed,” I remark.

“Take your time folks. When you need a break, I’ll take you to lunch in the executive dining room here at the sales center. And after lunch I have a demonstration pilot lined up to co-pilot the plane with either or both of you flying it,” the salesman offers and Sunny and I continue closely inspecting the interior of the business jet.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Ron Smith had never ridden in a private plane or helicopter until he met this family. During the fly-in, the family had made sure he got rides in a number of different aircraft. He rode in the big Grumman Amphibian with the cartoon duck painted on its nose. He also rode in a biplane that was owned by one of the ranch family’s friends. He even got to ride in the back of the North American P-51 Mustang with me. At first he was hesitant about the mild aerobatics that I put the plane through but by the time he got on the ground he wished the ride had taken longer.

Then Belle, Buddy’s friend, took Ron up in the back of her little plane. She called it a “pylon racer.” All he knew was it was fast and when he asked the blonde pilot if she ever did any aerobatics she had challenged him to “say when” and then put the plane through all sorts of maneuvers. Ron loved it.

“It was like ten times better than riding the best roller coaster ever,” he had exclaimed.

Now he is sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of a big fancy black executive helicopter. His Aunt Pat had insisted he get the front seat in the aircraft so he could see the sights and get to spend some time chatting with Dusty. Pat finds it more relaxing to sit in the passenger compartment and read. She has seen the Rocky Mountains from one end to the other many times over her life and, although she still appreciates their beauty, now that she lives on the ranch she doesn’t miss them that much anymore.

But Ron is enamored.

Like Sunny and I, Dusty had gotten a good early start to their trip as well. And he is enjoying playing tour director for Ron. Dusty chooses to follow the big interstate up the front range of the mountains from New Mexico all the way up to Boulder. As they pass Pikes Peak, the old rancher makes a point of circling the mountain at a safe and respectful height and distance so that Ron can get a really good look at it.

The young man goes from talking a mile a minute to being dumbfounded by the grandeur of the scenery they pass. Dusty is enjoying sharing what he knows about the area and has even let the boy handle the helicopter’s controls during part of the flight.

As they approach the Boulder area, Pat comes to the forward area of the passenger compartment so that she can look between the pilot’s seats and out the cockpit windshield for the road that leads up the mountain to her family’s land. It doesn’t take long for her to pick out the correct route and guide Dusty, who is careful to keep their flight as smooth as possible so that Ron or Pat doesn’t get airsick.

Finally, the helicopter is hovering at an altitude even with the top of that particular mountain, and Pat is pointing to the general area that she thinks is their land. But she is confused because there is a mining operation where she was sure their land’s southern border should be.

To be honest, she had never seen their land from a helicopter. She had always tried to spot it from the window of any airliner that she might have taken into Stapleton or DIA in the past. But most of the time she couldn’t pick out the mountain, let alone her land.

“Dusty, I guess we’ll just have to rent a Jeep and take a drive up there, honey,” Pat suggests over the helicopter’s intercom system while she reaches forward and gently pats her husband on his shoulder.

“Then that’s what we’ll do, sweetheart,” Dusty replies and gently turns the helicopter back in the direction of the Boulder Airport.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Belle Aloir has Buddy meet her in Phoenix rather than in Albuquerque, where she is normally based. She doesn’t say why. Just that she has their week together planned. That is all Buddy needs to convince him to relax and let that pretty gal do whatever she wants because he knows she’ll treat him like a king.

Buddy can’t believe it has finally happened to him. He hasn’t seriously dated since he left the Navy decades ago. And now he’s found someone he is absolutely falling head over heels for.

She is the claims adjuster for the insurance carrier that had to pay off the policy on the business jet that Tom landed in a lake in east Arizona. Since he is the head of the ranch’s aviation maintenance department, Buddy had gone to the lake with the Ranch Foreman, Charlie, to supervise the accident investigation and salvaging operation.

Since that first day he met her Buddy couldn’t stop thinking of Belle. And when she showed up unannounced at the ranch to complete the investigation for the insurance claim, that did it. She has had him in a tail spin ever since.

Belle has made it a point to come to the ranch almost every other weekend since they first met. Most of the time it is just overnight one night and then she has to be on the road again for another insurance claim. Dusty had given him a fatherly talk about his guest showing up and couldn’t understand why she always wanted to spend the night in the hangar locker room rather than a guest room in the hacienda. Buddy knew that, if she stayed in the hacienda, Belle and he would be spending all their time talking with the family. If Belle stayed in the hangar, he could have her all to himself. At least until it was appropriate for him to leave her alone to get some sleep. She refused to go to his house in the ranch hand housing area, since nothing happens at the ranch without everyone knowing about it.

But once, the last time she flew in to visit him, she talked him into meeting her off the ranch, at the motel in town and it was, to say the least, a memorable night.

He is now waiting in the baggage claim area of the Phoenix airport for that cute blonde bombshell, as nervous as that first time they had met off the ranch.

He doesn’t care that they have been acting like kids when they get together. He just knows he wants to do whatever it takes to hang onto this gal. And she seems to be doing everything she can to keep him interested.

Buddy’s heart jumps into his throat. There she is. And she looks even more dolled up than he has ever seen her before. She doesn’t look at all like a claims adjuster in that tight red dress and her blonde hair hanging down over her shoulders. And when she spots him she trots toward him as fast as her high heels will allow her to go.

When they embrace it is like that famous photo of the sailor kissing the girl in Time Square after World War II came to an end. Buddy can’t care less how people around them might stare. He is going to get all of the loving this gal wants to dish out, now!

After a while a cop comes by and warns them to “Get a room.” That makes Belle’s eyes sparkle as they break their embrace, but she hangs on tight to Buddy’s hand.

“Are you ready for our week together?” Belle asks excitedly.

“As ready as I could be without you telling me what we are going to do,” Buddy hesitates to admit.

“I’ve got it all arranged and all you have to do is follow me, mister. Are you coming?” Belle asks as she releases his hand, grabs the handle on her rolling suitcase and heads to the escalator that takes passengers up to the departure floor of the terminal.

Buddy grabs the handle on his suitcase and quickly falls in line behind the blonde on the escalator. She leans back against him during the ride up on the escalator and his blood pressure shoots through the roof, once again.

CHAPTER NINE

Dusty finishes securing the helicopter for overnight while Pat and Ron head to the executive terminal. Pat proceeds to the rental car counter and makes arrangements to rent a four door Jeep Wrangler. She insists on getting the insurance covering it for off-road use and on putting both Dusty and Ron on the rental contract as authorized drivers. Then she asks the young man behind the counter if he has heard any customer reviews of the historic hotel downtown on Main Street.

The rental agent knows exactly the one Pat is referring to and tells her that he’s heard glowing reviews of the place. It’s been recently remodeled but still has that old charm. He looks up the information on his computer and jots the phone number onto a piece of paper that he hands Pat. She thanks the young man and pulls out her cell phone.

By the time Dusty joins his two passengers in the terminal Pat has concluded her call, has two rooms reserved in her name, the Jeep keys in her hand, and leads the way out to the parking lot.

As she exits the building, the vista of the mountains before her makes her stop in her tracks and take a deep breath of the mountain air. She smiles and feels warm and welcomed by the area.

Ron insists on carrying everyone’s bags and loads them into the back of the Jeep as Pat climbs behind the wheel and Dusty gets in the passenger side. The traffic is light and in no time they are slowly cruising down Main Street of Boulder. Pat enjoys seeing the landmarks that are so familiar to her and points out various things to Dusty and Ron. She parks at the curb in front of the historic old hotel and Ron once again insists on playing bellman and carrying all the bags.

At the front counter Pat checks the group in and then distributes the keys to the two men with her. They take the elevator to the third floor and Pat is delighted they have the two rooms facing each other at the end of the hallway. They both have side windows that look out over the town to the mountains beyond.

“Get freshened up a bit and we’ll meet you in the lobby in half an hour to find a place for an early lunch,” Pat instructs Ron as Dusty lets her into their room.

“Meet you downstairs then,” Ron responds and closes the room door behind him.

Dusty is immediately drawn to the vista outside the window and is impressed that the room has a balcony on both the mountain side and street side of their room. He steps out onto the balcony, fishes his pipe out of his jacket pocket, packs it with tobacco and slowly lights it. He sits down on one of the chairs by the café table and enjoys the mountain view while Pat is busy hanging up some clothes and putting everything else from their suitcase in the bureau.

The quiet almost lulls Dusty to sleep until he hears his wife whisper in his ear.

“You going to nod off on me? I’m hungry. Take me to lunch, lover,” Pat says quietly.

“Shhhh. I’m dreaming,” Dusty whispers back and then cracks one eyelid open and chuckles. He gets up slowly, taps his pipe out into the butt can by the door and follows his wife through the hotel room to the hallway and the elevator.

When the couple steps out of the elevator, they find Ron chatting with the desk clerk. But he quickly joins Dusty and Pat as they head out the hotel front door.

“Let’s walk. I think there is someplace nice close if I remember correctly,” Pat comments. The two men just follow her lead.

CHAPTER TEN

Sunny’s cell phone rings as she continues to inspect the business jet we are considering purchasing.

“Hello Dad. Did your sightseeing flight go well?” Sunny inquires of her father.

“We had a good flight,” Dusty briefs his daughter, “Both Ron and Pat are excited about driving up to their property in a little bit. We’ll catch a bite to eat first. But I just wanted to tell you we made our trip safely. How does that plane you are looking at compare to our old one?”

“We haven’t test flown it yet, but it should work well for us. You’ll appreciate the air conditioning this one has on it. The rest of the gear is pretty close to what you’d be used to from the old plane,” Sunny responds as she continues to look over the plane carefully.

“By the way, have you heard from Buddy? No one on the ranch has. It’s not like him to pass up the chance to check in on his crew when he is away. Should we be worried?” my wife inquires.

“Let him be, sweetheart. He’s earned the time off and perhaps this trip with that gal he’s been dating will help him decide if she’s just having fun with him, or if she’s serious. I’m hoping she doesn’t lead him on and then dump him. There is something about her that just doesn’t sit right with me. I’m probably just being overly protective. Buddy’s been part of our ranch family since just a little while after he got out of the Navy,” Dusty tells his daughter and that gets his wife, Pat, frowning at him. “I’d better stop flapping my jaws before I get myself into more trouble. You give Tom my best and don’t rush with that airplane. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Love you dear,” the rancher concludes.

“Love you, Dad,” Sunny responds. After hanging up, she sits for a moment and stares at her cell phone. I can see concern on her face but having heard her side of the conversation I can’t figure out what would have her so concerned. Finally, she looks up at me and smiles, shrugs, and slips her phone in her back pocket as she continues looking over the business jet.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Dusty pays the check for lunch and the threesome heads back to the hotel. But then they all agree that there really isn’t any reason to go back to their rooms. Pat and Ron are anxious to see the land.

Pat agrees to let Dusty take the wheel on the Jeep and Pat will guide him on the route to the property. In that way, Pat can enjoy the sights without worrying about being distracted while driving.

It takes half an hour to get to the access road to the property and another quarter hour to drive the rough road in. Pat is surprised the road is freshly graded and semi-smoothed out but then realizes, as a dump truck comes down the mountain toward them, that it’s because the mining operation is on the land beside their land. They pull off the road and let the big truck by.

When the road turns south to the mine, through a high fence with barb wire along its top, Dusty keeps going straight ahead to continue the climb up the mountain. This part of the road is more of a primitive trail that evidently hasn’t been used much in recent years. Near the peak the road swings off to the right and Pat confirms it should be the cabin access road. Fifty yards later, she isn’t as sure.

“Stop here for a bit, would you, Dusty? I want to get out and look around,” Pat says and Dusty accommodates her.

All three of them get out of the Jeep and Pat starts walking around the clear area below the trees. But she can’t find any sign of the cabin having been there in the past.


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