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Wild Horse Springs (Ransom Canyon #5)

By:Jodi Thomas

Wild Horse Springs (Ransom Canyon #5)
Author: Jodi Thomas





CHAPTER ONE

Midnight

Friday

DAN BRIGMAN HAD been sheriff for half his life. He knew the county, the people and the potholes for miles around Crossroads, Texas. Now that his daughter, Lauren, was grown, being a lawman filled his time. He'd settled into a comfortable aloneness and counted himself lucky.

When he turned onto the county road on the third Friday in November, featherlight snow circled in the cruiser's headlights as if the beams caught winter's breath dancing in the dark along the silent stretch of highway. The first freeze of the season was whispering across the flatland, but Dan feared a storm would rage in a few hours.

He smiled. He loved this time of year. Most folks complained about the cold, the short days, the colorless landscapes, but he liked coming inside after a long day and warming by the fireplace. He loved napping through football games and craved all the food that came with the season. Green chili enchiladas, Hopkins County Stew, spicy pork ribs simmered all day in a slow cooker.

The sheriff laughed out loud. He was starting to sound like an old man. True, there was a brush of gray along his temples, but inside he felt like he was still young. In twenty years, if he kept getting reelected, he'd retire and have time to fish off his dock at the lake house. If he got bored, he'd drop by his old office to tell the next sheriff how to run the county. He'd never run with the bulls or climbed Everest or seen a foreign country, but he'd had a rich life.

Something bright blinked in his headlights just in front of him.

Dan hit the brakes.

With his beams on high, he climbed out of the cruiser, a flashlight in one hand and the other on the butt of his service weapon. The county road might be silent tonight, but this was 111, the stretch of highway where he'd been ambushed four years ago.

That day flashed through his mind more in sounds than pictures. Bullets pinging against the sides of his cruiser like hailstones. Tires popping as they went flat. Brakes squealing while he fought for control. Glass shattering across the windshield and raining onto the pavement.

Then, when all the noise stilled, all he'd felt was pain.

Three bullets were dug out of his body a few hours later. The six months of recovery seemed endless. Four years of peace since, and yet he could still hear the sounds of that one day. He'd watched his blood snake across the highway like a tiny river and pool into the dirt. He'd counted his heartbeats as if needing to know how many were left.

If it hadn't been for one kid pulling him away from the gunfire, he'd be buried in the Ransom Canyon Cemetery, his grave covered in snow tonight.

Dan pushed the memories aside as he focused the flashlight's beam on a sparkly blue object in the road.

A boot. One tall blue woman's boot stood proud on the center stripe. The kind of fancy boot with rhinestones and stitching in the leather from the ankle up. One like cowgirls wore to dance in until the bar closed. One that would never be worn to work cattle.

Dan relaxed as he stared down at the boot. County Road 111 was mostly traveled by locals, and none of the ranch folks wore fancy footwear like this.

"It's a mystery," he said aloud. Dan was fully aware that he was talking to himself, but then who was around to object?

He picked up the boot and walked back to his car. If someone had tossed it out, which wasn't likely, it probably wouldn't have been standing straight up on the center line. No one would have thrown away just one even if they hated wearing them. A pair like this probably cost five hundred dollars or more.

By the car light he examined his find. Deep blue, like the sky turned just before it rained. The sole was worn. No other scrapes. Whoever wore this never shoved it into a stirrup.

Dan put the boot in the passenger seat and pushed the car into gear. "Well, pretty lady," he said with a laugh. "How about riding along with me tonight?"

Any woman who wore a boot like this one would show it off. She'd have on tight jeans tucked into the top. She'd be outgoing, maybe wild. She'd laugh easy and probably yell when she argued. She'd take big gulps of life.

That kind of woman would never be attracted to him. Dan was as solid as the canyon walls, probably borderline boring if he thought about it, and as his daughter often reminded him, predictable.

Dan never allowed himself to daydream. He was always serious, a man who was his job, not one who just wore the uniform. But tonight, cloudy starless skies made the world seem more fantasy than real, and the rich blue leather sparkled in the dashboard lights.

"I guess I better start looking for Cinderella, because some cowgirl princess has lost her slipper."

He remembered how Lauren was always telling him he needed to go out now and then. Maybe he could text her a picture of the boot and tell her he'd made the first step. Lauren had probably meant he should date one of the church ladies who asked him for favors, such as judging the jams competitions for charity, or invited him to the Wednesday-morning breakfast because they "needed more men." His daughter had not meant for him to step out with the kind of woman who'd wear a rhinestone boot.

It was almost one o'clock when the sheriff pulled into the Two Step Saloon's dirt parking lot. The bar was outside the city limits of Crossroads, but Dan swore he could hear the bass beating some nights from his office a few miles away. Most Friday nights he would have already had at least one call from the bartender before now. But since the Nowhere Club opened thirty miles south of Crossroads, business had dropped off along with arrests in Dan's county.

Grabbing the boot, Dan walked into the Two Step. Maybe, if the place wasn't too loud, or the folks too drunk, someone would remember seeing a lady we

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