Her cousins already owned most of four Wyoming counties. For the first time in her life she understood her father’s resentment toward the ranching family. If the McKays got their hands on Dutton’s land it’d feel like encroachment, whereas if she and Trevor bought Dutton’s land, it would feel like progress, despite either way they ended up with the McKays as neighbors.

Neither she nor Trevor owned anything worth anything. No antiques, or jewelry or heirlooms. Their pickups were running on baling twine and prayers. The farm equipment was ancient. They could sell off a couple bulls, a couple horses and it still wouldn’t put a dent in the kind of cash they needed to come up with.

The financial situation weighed on Trevor, making him feel like he couldn’t provide for her. He’d considered asking his dad to loan them money, but Chassie would rather lose out on the land than have Trevor beholden in any way to his father.

Which put them back at square one; dreams without the resources to realize them. So when that pensive look settled on her husband’s handsome face, she didn’t push.

The passenger’s door slammed and Edgard climbed in, startling Chassie out of her brooding, as “cake”—feed pellets for the cattle—filled the metal bin in the truck bed.

“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be checkin’ on the repair status of your truck?”

“Yep. It’s not done.”

“I’m not surprised. Does Trevor know you aren’t in the house twiddling your thumbs?”

“No. I beat feet past the machine shed where he’s wrenching on some piece of metal and cussing like a truck driver. I’m here, I might as well help out. I like helping out.

Actually, I miss doin’ the work.”

“Consider yourself the official gate-opener again,” Chassie said, shifting the truck into first gear. “It’ll be nice to have your company.” As Trevor had all but ignored Edgard in the last few days, Edgard had taken to riding along with her in the morning and hanging out with her in the house in the afternoons. They’d had some damn interesting conversations.

After they’d passed through the first gate and pasture, she said, “Tell me more about your ranch in Brazil. Is it a family operation?”

Edgard pushed his hat back with a gloved hand. “No. I bought it with my rodeo earnings. It was close to my mother and stepfather’s place.”


“Is. Translation error.”

The truth? Or just a way to cover up the slip?

“Anyway, it’s small compared to the wide open spaces in Wyoming, only about two hundred acres.”

“How many cattle can you run on a spread that size?”

“I had three hundred head.”

Again with the past tense. “That’s a lot of cattle on not a huge acreage.”

“There’s a lot of rain, which means a lot of vegetation, so there’s plenty of feed. I’ll admit our cows are smaller and leaner than the ones I see here.”

The herd swarmed the truck, recognizing the sound of food. Chassie pulled the cord on the hopper and the cake dropped to the ground beneath them as they putzed along.

“I know it’s crass to ask, but how many head are you and Trevor running?”

“Four hundred. We got an eighty percent pregnancy rate with breeding in early summer, so we’re crossing our fingers for the birth survival rate to be around that same percentage. Even counting the heifers.”

“Universal truth that they’re notoriously paranoid first time mothers, eh?”

She smiled. “Must be. So bein’ so far south, do you calve around the same time of year?”


“And you aren’t there to help out?”

He angled his head toward the window. “This place is beautiful. So different from the jungle.”

Chassie let the blatant subject change pass as they bumped over the rutted tracks. Her gaze caught on a moving object three hundred feet down the fence line. She snagged the binoculars from the middle of the seat and focused on the sagebrush. Not more than thirty seconds passed and she saw it move again.


“What do you see?”

“A goddamn coyote.” She eased the truck into a half circle for a better view. She shoved the stick into neutral and pushed the emergency brake to the floor. Carefully, she reached for her “varmint rifle” on the gun rack behind her. No need to dig for ammo because it was already fully loaded.

“You gonna shoot it?”

“Yep.” Chassie didn’t bother to look at Edgard when she said, “Got a problem with that?”

“No. We have our share of predators in Brazil.”

“The Wiley Coyote, Bambi lovin’, PETA members don’t understand why I’d wanna kill a cute, fluffy little animal who’s only actin’ on instinct. After livin’ on this land my entire life, I know those beasts are licking their chops for a cow to fall behind so they can attack it. Gets worse when we start calvin’. If it comes down to my livelihood or a coyote’s, it’s my instinct to remind those scavengers I’m at the top of the food chain for a reason.”

“Can’t argue with that logic.”

With the window rolled down, she poked the barrel out the window and trained her sight on the bushes. “Come on out,” she taunted. “It’ll only hurt a little bit.”

Edgard chuckled.

A reddish-gold face broke through the underbrush and Chassie fired. The animal jerked and ran. She ignored the slight ringing in her ears and fired again. The coyote dropped beyond the rise. “Hah!”

“Didja get it?”


“You’re a good shot.”

“Comes from lots of practice, on all sorts of guns, with all sorts of prey.”

Edgard muttered, “Remind me not to piss you off.”

Holding the rifle across her lap, she popped the emergency brake and slammed the truck into gear.

“What do you do with it if it’s dead?”

“Nothin’. Leave it as crow bait.”

“You don’t skin it?”

She shook her head.

“Why not? Isn’t there money in skins?”

“The hide and tail should be worth cash, but you’ll see why the majority of coyotes around here are worthless.”

After Chassie crested the rise, she slowed, seeing the form lying on the grayish-white snow. Once they were within ten feet of the carcass, she stopped the truck.

They both hopped out and met at the hood.

“Holy shit that’s nasty,” Edgard said.

The male coyote was scrawny, emaciated to the point each rib showed. The front and back legs were stick-thin and covered in oozing sores. The animal’s fur was matted in places; bald spots dotted the rest of the skeletal body. Only four teeth were visible from the slackened jaw.

“What is it?”

“Scabies. It’s an epidemic. It doesn’t matter, young, old, male, female, the disease thrives in the dens. Lucky thing this one is out of the gene pool before mating season starts.”

“Yeah. He looks like he’s had some good luck all right.”

Chassie couldn’t resist teasing, “Hey, there’s a hacksaw under the seat. We could chop off the paws and convince folks that coyote feet are much luckier than rabbit feet.

Bet we could make a pile of cash.”

“You have a seriously sick sense of humor.”

She smacked a kiss on his baby smooth cheek. “You’re so sweet. You ready for lunch?”

Edgard gave a mock shudder. “I take it back. You are plain evil.”

Since they were already out and about, Chassie took Edgard on an extended tour of the ranch. She pointed out the river valley and the summer grazing lands beyond it.

“You really love this chunk of earth, don’t you?”

Chassie’s cheeks flamed. “Sorry. I’m a little enthusiastic even after twenty-five years.”

“You’ve never lived anywhere else?”

“Never wanted to.”

He seemed to consider that. “So are you just content to stay here carrying on the family tradition, living on land, doing the same types of agricultural things that haven’t changed for three generations?”

“I didn’t say that. There’s been a few changes since Trevor and I took over. Things my dad wouldn’t consider but were necessary. There are lots of new avenues I’d like to try.”

“For instance?”

“I’d like to raise goats.”

Edgard laughed.

“No. I’m serious.”

“Does Trevor know?”

“Nope. I’d never convince him it’s an animal we need. So it’s pointless to ask him for a llama too.” She smiled. “I miss the old dairy cow we had before my mom got sick, so it’d be fun to have goats to milk. Heck, I’d even try my hand at makin’ goat cheese.”

He chuckled again. “Chassie the goat-herder. There’s a fantasy worth visiting. I’m getting an image of you wearing a skimpy X-rated Little Bo-Peep type costume with black vinyl fuck-me boots and a leather whip instead of a staff.”

“Kinky. You sound exactly like Trevor.” And why did the idea that Edgard found her fantasy material please her so much?

They chatted easily, as if they’d been friends for years, which was odd, considering Edgard and Trevor were the ones who supposedly had the long-term friendship. Odder yet was the fact Chassie hadn’t seen any sign of that close friendship.

By the time they returned to the ranch, a couple of hours had passed, during which they’d discovered a mutual love of horror flicks, card games, and 1970s soul music.

But if Trevor’s angry expression was any indication of his mood, she doubted he’d be thrilled to learn of the interests she and Edgard shared. The second she’d parked the truck, he stalked over and threw open the door. “Where the hell have you guys been?”

“Feedin’ cattle.”