Sam turned on the windshield wipers to help clear the view of the long stretch of road before him. “Looks like the weather guys missed this one,” he said as he turned up the heat.
“Yeah.” Cody glanced behind him out the back window before turning back toward the front with a frown. “Do you ever feel like you’re being watched?”
Sam glanced between his brother and the road. “Watched? Boy, you’ve been watching too many damn scary movies.”
Cody snickered as he adjusted his seat belt. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Are we moving the cattle tomorrow?”
Sam shrugged. “Might as well if this doesn’t turn into a damn blizzard. You never know what the weather will do out here.”
“If I had known it would turn out this cold, I would’ve suggested picking up a girl for the weekend.”
Sam snorted. “You know damn good and well I don’t like sharing local girls. They talk too damn much.”
“Talk can be a good thing.”
“Yeah, and it can also be a bad thing.” He gave his brother a pointed look. “Do you remember how long it took that last rumor to die down? I don’t want a repeat of that, Cody. Our sex life is our own. We shouldn’t have to explain to the people we do business with on a daily basis that we like to share.”
Cody mumbled something incoherent, but Sam let it go. He knew his brother didn’t agree with him on the privacy issue. Cody thought it shouldn’t matter, but Sam knew it did. So he insisted they keep that part of their life quiet and get their girls from somewhere other than their hometown, which usually meant they went without.
The ranch kept them pretty busy, and with the winter weather moving in, it was time to reposition the cattle anyway, bring them closer in.
“How about if I let you fly the helicopter tomorrow?” Sam asked as he glanced over at Cody.
Cody smiled slightly. “Really? You gonna seriously hand over the reins?”
“Wow,” Cody drawled as he teased Sam. “I promise I’ll take real good care of her. I won’t let nothin’ happen to your baby.”
Sam frowned. “Keep it up, smartass, and I’ll retract my offer.”
Theirs was one of two ranches in Montana that had helicopters. Cody had balked at the price, but after three years, he finally conceded that it had been a smart investment. Though he was the younger brother, Cody actually had a pretty good head on his shoulders for business and investments. Sam would probably never admit it, but he knew it was Cody’s money management that had tripled their personal net worth and almost doubled the profit at the ranch.
Their dad would be proud, if he was still alive.
Sam saddened just a bit as he thought about their dad. He had been a good man, a good rancher, and most of all, a good father. He’d taught Sam and Cody everything he knew about ranching and even listened to their ideas about expanding. The three of them had made Keller Ranch one of the largest and most profitable in the country.
He just wished their mom had been able to see it. She’d died when they were young. Their father had never remarried.
“I’ve already had the love of my life. Why would I want another?” his father would say whenever they asked him about dating.
They’d never pushed. They just hoped to one day find a love of their own. The only problem with that was Sam and Cody liked to share. Not too many women were okay with that.
Which, in Sam’s mind, sucked.
He liked sharing with his brother. He enjoyed watching the woman they were with pleasuring Cody, and he knew Cody felt the same. Maybe one of these days they’d find a woman who could handle that long-term, but he wasn’t holding his breath.
“Do you hear that?” Cody asked.
He reached over and pushed the button, lowering the window and letting in the cold night air. Sam scowled.
“What the hell are you doing, Cody? It’s freezing out there.”
Cody held up his hand, indicating Sam should be quiet. “Listen.”
Sam heard the distinct sound of wolves howling in the distance. They sounded odd, different from the wolves they normally heard. These sounded deeper, more guttural…bigger.
“Is that wolves?” Cody asked.
“Can’t say as I’ve ever heard the wolves sound like that,” Sam mumbled.
“Yeah, it’s weird. Wonder if they’ve moved a new breed in or something.”
“You mean besides the grays?” Sam shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
Sam turned down the driveway that would take them to the ranch house. The full moon put out enough light he almost didn’t need the headlights. A shadow just off to his right caught his attention, and he slammed on the brakes.
The truck ground to a halt, sliding against the gravel as the wheels locked up, and sent him and Cody toward the dash. Sam stiffened his arms as he held tight to the steering wheel, while Cody threw his hands up, stopping himself just short of the dash.
“What the hell was that?” Cody asked in aggravation.
A woman and three very large wolves had appeared directly in their path. She’d come out of nowhere, surprising the hell out of both him and Sam. One of the wolves lunged, knocking her to the ground, where she remained motionless. Cody and Sam both grabbed a rifle off the rack that ran the length of the back window and jumped from the truck. Neither one of them thought; they just reacted. Sam came around the front first and raised his rifle, firing once. The huge wolf he shot yelped and fell to the ground beside the young woman, lifeless. One of the other wolves lunged for Cody, and he fired as well, hitting the wolf in the neck. It dropped silently at his feet.
Cody stared at the beast in shock. He’d never seen anything that big, but he couldn’t take the time to study it. The third wolf stood a few feet away, staring him down. It bared its teeth, its growl echoing across the snow-covered ground.
“Come on, you son of a bitch. I dare ya,” Cody snarled as he worked the pump on his rifle.
At the sound, the wolf stepped back but continued to growl as it disappeared into the nearby brush. Cody frowned, surprised the animal had seemed to take the sound of the pump as a warning. He’d never seen a wolf back down at the sight of a gun pointed in their direction.
He turned his attention back to the other wolf and glanced down at his feet where it should’ve still been lying. In shock, he realized the dead wolf had disappeared. He turned in a quick circle, looking for tracks, but saw nothing.
“What the hell,” he shouted. “Where did it go?”
“Don’t worry about that right now, Cody. I need some help over here,” Sam said from his position by the still-unconscious young woman.
Cody went over to join him but kept his rifle ready. As he moved to where Sam crouched by the woman, he noticed the other wounded wolf was gone as well. There was no blood, no tracks, no nothing.
“Sam,” Cody said. “The wolves are gone.”
“No, you don’t understand. They’re gone. No tracks, no blood. Nothing.”
Sam sighed and turned to look. When his gaze landed on the empty spot where the wolf had been, he frowned. “We’ll worry about that later. Right now we need to take care of her.”
“Is she still alive?”
“Yeah, but looks like they got her pretty good.” Sam studied the wound just under her left rib cage. Three long gashes oozed blood onto the snow and her light blue blouse. “She has a head wound too. I want to check her back, but I’m afraid to move her too much. You got your phone on you?”
Cody was already pulling it out of his pocket. He checked the signal before dialing 911. While he answered the operator’s questions as best he could, Cody studied the young woman lying across their driveway.
She was beautiful. Stunning, actually, with long, curly black hair, thick eyelashes, and skin the color of smooth cappuccino. She had an exotic look about her, so much so that Cody was almost certain she wasn’t from around here. If he’d seen her, he would’ve noticed and then most certainly tried to seduce her. He liked women who were curvy, and this one had sexy curves in abundance that were evident behind the formfitting clothes she wore.
Despite the hugging fit, she dressed very classy. A woman with money, no doubt.
Cody moved the phone away from his mouth as he waited for the operator to type in some information. “Any ID on her?”
Sam shook his head. “No, but wanna know something weirder? Where the hell are her car and her coat? Surely she wasn’t walking out here dressed like this.”
Cody nodded in agreement as he looked down both directions of the road. No car in sight. She had to be freezing in the thin top she wore. Cody shrugged off his coat and handed it to Sam, who took it and covered the young woman’s torso.
He finished up with 911 and paced a circle around Sam and the woman, all the while watching for more wolves as well as the ambulance.
“Where the hell are they, Cody?” Sam asked.
“They’re on their way,” Cody replied.
“She’s gonna freeze on this damn ground, but I don’t know if I should move her and put her in the truck.” Sam removed his coat and covered her legs. “It’s not much, but it will have to do,” Sam said softly to the sleeping woman.
It was then that Cody noticed her feet and frowned. She wore black, three-inch heels, but what caught his attention was how clean they were.
He squatted by her legs and removed one of her shoes. Holding it up, he looked at Sam. “See anything strange?”
Sam frowned. “No mud on the heels.”
They weren’t scuffed. They weren’t the shoes of someone who’d tried to outrun wolves through a field. What the hell was going on here?
* * * *
Sam sat in a chair in the corner of the dark hospital room. Beside him, the woman he’d found on his ranch lay sleeping in the bed. She had no ID and no idea who she was. She’d become so upset at her lack of memory when she woke up in the emergency room that the doctor had decided to sedate her. She’d been out now for several hours.
All her tests had come back fine. Her wounds were cleaned and stitched. The only thing she had on her that might give a clue to her identity was the piece of jewelry she’d been wearing around her neck.
It was a gold locket, oval shaped, with a family crest and the name Keegan engraved on the front of it. Inside was a picture of a man and a woman, Sam assumed her grandparents or more likely great-grandparents, considering the age of the pictures and the way the people were dressed. On the back was engraved another word: Bortunata.
He’d tried to look it up on the Internet but had found nothing. Was it a name? A place? Sam didn’t have a clue. It was a mystery, and Sam hated mysteries. They drove him crazy until he found the answer. He had a feeling this answer wouldn’t be so easy to come by.
He looked down at the necklace he held in his hand. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry, just like the woman who owned it. He didn’t know if he’d ever seen a woman around here quite like her. She had incredible, expressive brown eyes that he’d hardly been able to turn away from when she’d woken up earlier.
She’d been so frightened, so convinced that she had to get away but didn’t know why. The doctor had said it was probably remnants of the trauma she’d experienced.
Her lack of memory was another matter. That could be from the trauma of the attack or the hit on the head. They would never know for sure. She could get it back when she woke up, or it might never come back at all.
Sam ran his thumb over the crest on the locket and sighed. He wondered if he could scan this onto his computer and look it up. If he could find who the crest belonged to, maybe he could find who she was.
He doubted she was from around here. If she had been, he was sure he would’ve seen her before now. Hell, a man couldn’t miss her. She was a looker; that was for damn sure. Her manicured fingernails and toenails, her name-brand shoes and clothes all indicated she came from money. Or they at least gave that impression. When she’d spoken, she even had a slight hint of an English accent. It was possible she was a tourist, but regardless of who she was, there was still the question of what she had been doing way out on his ranch with no coat, no car, and no ID.
And what the hell were those animals that had attacked her?
The door to her room opened, and Cody walked in with the sheriff, Mike Sims. Mike had been a friend since school. About the same age as them, he often spent time at their ranch during his downtime. He liked helping break in the new horses.
“Is she still asleep?” Mike asked.
“Yeah,” Sam replied. “She stirs occasionally, but that’s about it.”
Mike nodded and sighed. “We found a truck about nine miles from your driveway. It had been driven into a tree. We think it might be hers.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Nine miles?”
“There’s more,” Cody said as he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. “The truck has no license plate, no registration, and no VIN number.”
Sam frowned. “Has the VIN number been sanded off?”
“Nope,” Cody said. “There’s just not one.”
Sam’s frown deepened. “That doesn’t make any sense. How can it not have one?”
Mike shrugged. “Got me. Looks like there might be more to this little woman than we might think. I’m beginning to wonder if the lack of memory is a scam.”
Sam shook his head. “No. You didn’t see her face, Mike. She really didn’t remember.”
“Maybe,” Mike said, although Sam could tell his friend wasn’t as sure as he was.
“What is she going to do if she wakes up and still doesn’t remember?” Cody asked.
Sam sighed as he looked back at the sleeping woman. “I don’t know, but I’ve been thinking about that.”
“And?” Cody prodded.
“We talked about hiring a housekeeper to help us out at the house. Maybe we should offer her the job. It would keep her close so we could maybe solve this mystery and give her somewhere to stay until her memory returns.”
Cody tilted his head. “You sure that’s a good idea?”
Sam shrugged. “No, but what else are we going to do? Turn her out into the street?”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that she’s gorgeous as hell, right?” Cody asked, his lips twitching slightly.
Mike snickered, but Sam ignored him. “Yeah, okay. I’ll admit she’s gorgeous, but no, this isn’t about that. This is about doing the right thing.” He looked at his friend. “You got a problem with this?”
Mike snorted. “Why would I have a problem with it? If nothing else, it helps me out. I don’t have to try to find somewhere for her to go.”
“I guess it’s settled, then,” Cody said as his attention returned to the young woman lying in the hospital bed.
Trista Ann Michaels