Fee knew that. But she also knew what it was like to have no one fighting in her corner, no one to rely on. She knew how it felt to feel invisible and when she stepped out of the shadows, how it felt to be mocked and bullied.
God, she’d come a long way.
“I guarantee you will find a project and you won’t be able to resist meddling,” Lulu told her, blue eyes laughing.
“Want to bet?” Fee asked her as they approached the enormous gates to what was Buck Blackwood’s—now Miranda’s—ranch. The gates to Blackwood Hollow appeared and she flung the car to the right and sped down the long driveway. Lu hissed and Fee grinned.
“What’s the bet?” Lulu asked, gripping the armrest with white fingers. “And you drive like a maniac.”
“You give me your recipe for Miss Annie’s fried chicken for my next cookbook, if I decide to do another one.” She’d been trying to pry Lulu’s grandma’s recipe from her since the first time Lulu fed her the delicious extra-crispy chicken at a small dinner five years earlier.
“She’ll come back and haunt me.” Lulu gasped, placing her hand on her chest. “I can’t. Just like you can’t stop yourself from meddling…”
“I can. And you know I can or else you wouldn’t be hesitating…”
Lu narrowed her eyes at Fee as they approached a cluster of buildings that looked like a Hollywood vision of a working ranch. A sprawling mansion, guest cottages, massive barns. Despite visiting the spread days before, it was still breathtaking.
“There’s the crew’s van.” Lulu pointed toward the far barn and Fee tapped the accelerator as she drove past the main house that went on and on and on.
“What could be so interesting down by the barns?” Fee wondered.
Fee looked where Lulu pointed and…holy crispy fried chicken. A man riding a horse at a gallop around a ring shouldn’t be a surprise, but what a man and what a horse. Fee didn’t know horses—she thought the speckled black-and-white horse might be a stallion—but she did know men.
And the cowboy was one hell of a man. Broad shoulders, muscled thighs, big biceps straining the sleeves of his faded T-shirt. She couldn’t see the color of his hair or the lines on his face, the Stetson prevented her from making out the details, but his body was, like the horse, all sleek muscles and contained strength.
Hot, hot, hot…
He also looked familiar. Where did she know him from?
Fee took her foot off the accelerator and allowed the car to roll toward to where the other vehicles—the crew’s van, a battered work truck and a spiffy SUV—were parked. All her attention was focused on the horse and rider, perfectly in sync. He seemed oblivious to his audience: a couple of cowboys sitting on the top railing of the fence and Miranda, Rafaela and Zooey standing with their arms on the white pole fence, their attention completely captured by the rider hurtling around the ring in a blur of hooves and dust.
God, he was heading straight for the fence. They’d either crash through it or he’d have to jump it because there was no way he’d be able to stop the horse in time.
Fee released the wheel and slapped her hands over her mouth, her attention completely caught by the drama in the paddock. She wanted to scream out a warning and was on the point of doing so when the rider yanked on the reins and the stallion braked instantly, stopping when his nose was just an inch from the fence.
That collision didn’t happen, but another did when Fee’s very expensive rented Audi convertible slammed into the bumper of the battered farm truck.
Lulu released a small shriek and Fee flung her arm out in a futile effort to keep Lulu from lurching forward. Their seat belts kept them in place but metal scraped against metal and steam erupted from her car as the hood got up close and personal with the back of the rust-covered truck.
“Are you okay?” Fee demanded, looking at Lulu.
“Fine,” Lulu replied, then winced at the carnage in front of her. “Your car is toast, though—the hood is crumpled.”
“I can see that.” Fee nodded, releasing her seat belt. “How come it’s always the crap cars that sustain the least damage?”
“That crap car is a seventy-two Chevy pickup I am in the process of restoring.”
Fee yanked her eyes off Lulu and turned her head to the right, looking straight into faded denim covering strong thighs and a very nice package.
Strong, broad hands rested on his hips, the veins rising on his tanned forearms lightly covered with blond hair. The red T-shirt had faded to orange in places but the chest underneath it was broad and those biceps were big and bitable. His horse—had they jumped the fence to get to her so quickly?—laid its chin on the cowboy’s shoulder but neither she, nor the cowboy, were distracted by the animal’s interference in their conversation.
Fee kept her focus on him, utterly entranced by his strong face, the blond stubble covering his chiseled jaw, the thin lips, the long, straight nose. The feeling of familiarity coalesced into certainty, she’d seen him before, this cowboy—here at Blackwood Hollow a few days before—but she couldn’t recall his name. Probably because he’d just fried most of her brain cells.
She wanted to see his eyes; no, she needed to see his eyes. On impulse, Fee clambered up to stand on her car seat.
God he was tall. Fee pushed the rim of his Stetson up with her finger, her eyes clashing with the deepest, saddest, green-gold-gray eyes.
Hard eyes, angry eyes, sad, sad eyes.
Fee couldn’t decide what she wanted to do more, hug him or jump him.
Save the horse and ride the cowboy, indeed.
Clint Rockwell was a guy of few words but if Buck Blackwood were magically resurrected, he’d have had more than a few to hurl at his friend and mentor’s head. What the hell had he been thinking to ask Clint to mind the property during his long illness and after his death?
Since Buck’s funeral, Clint had been coming over to Blackwood Hollow a few times a week, to check on the hands and to exercise Buck’s demon horse, Jack.
He and Jack were finally starting to bond and their skills were improving. Clint lifted his hand to hold Jack’s cheek, enjoying the puffs of horse breath against his neck.
Animals were cool; people were not.
People hurt people—and sometimes things, his pickup being a case in point. Ignoring Jack, Clint walked over to the hood of the Audi convertible and dropped to his haunches to inspect the damage to his pickup. He didn’t much care about the damage to the convertible, they were dime a dozen, but his truck was vintage and worth a pretty penny.
Hey, Rock, if I don’t make it, finish my truck for me. Only original parts, man, gold and cream.
You are going to make it because if you don’t, I’m going to paint it pink and white, Clint had told him, his hand in the hole in Tim’s chest, trying to stem the river of blood soaking his hand, Tim’s clothing and the dirt road beneath them.
They’d both known Clint’s optimism was a lie, that Tim needed blood and a surgeon and that he was out of time.
I’ll haunt you if you do anything stupid to my baby, Tim had muttered.
This accident probably qualified as a haunting.
Hell, Clint didn’t sleep anyway, so Tim was welcome to pop in for a chat. His army ranger buddies were the only people Clint liked being around