“Which works out fine,” Abe said, “because Janie is comin’ to the ranch with me. I’ve got a personal security system and no one can get to her without goin’ through me first.”

“What kind of personal security system?”

“A twelve gauge, a twenty-two caliber and a forty-five.”

The eruption of arguments after his mention of guns didn’t surprise Abe. Renner and Tierney were nose to nose, loudly locked in battle. Janie was gesturing wildly and trying to talk over them. Abe tried to listen but he didn’t give a shit about anything except securing Janie’s safety.

A shrill whistle cut through the din and silence ensued.

Harper leaned against the door. “Thank heaven. I could hear you all the way downstairs.”

Abe watched Janie, Renner and Tierney exchange sheepish looks—no one had heard Harper come in, which wasn’t good.

Tierney recovered first. “Thanks, Harper.”

“No problem. I couldn’t help but overhear. I came up here to tell you there’s a guy wanting a drink at the bar. I would’ve gone ahead and served him, but after hearing this? I’m not sure if he’s even a guest.”

Renner made a beeline for the door and would’ve knocked Harper over if she hadn’t moved quickly. Tierney was right on Renner’s heels.

“Think it’s him?” Abe murmured to Janie.

“No. I don’t think he’s anywhere around here. So, while the offer of your ranch is appreciated—”

“It’s nonnegotiable. You can’t live at the Split Rock. Rentals are damn hard to come by in Muddy Gap. You’ll be safer at the ranch.”

“I’ll also be really goddamned isolated,” she snapped.

Although she was lashing out because she was scared, her poor opinion of the ranch sliced him to the bone. Not to mention her embarrassment and lack of disclosure about their marriage. But he would not dwell on his feelings because this was about her. Making sure Janie was safe. He’d give the sheriff a heads-up and see what information he could track down.

Harper moved beside the couch to peek at Janie’s bandage. “Ouch. How bad did you injure your head?”

“Why?”

“The pain must be blocking the logic center of your brain if you’re considering saying no to Abe’s generous offer to let you hole up at the Lawson ranch.”

Abe bit his cheek to keep from smiling. Harper might look the quintessential beauty queen, but she didn’t pull punches. And she did it with total charm.

“Harper, you don’t understand.”

“Yes, I do. You’re being stubborn. Get over it because there’s one thing you haven’t considered.”

Janie’s pointed chin lifted a notch. “What?”

“If this Dave guy is targeting you, he’ll probably be targeting Abe too, because it’s common knowledge around here Abe is your ex-husband. Can you imagine how pissed he’ll be that you didn’t disclose that to him before?”

With the way Janie’s eyes widened, that hadn’t occurred to her.

Harper kept going. “If Dave found out where you are, do you really want to be alone, not knowing where he is? And do you really want to leave Abe alone?”

Abe didn’t remind Harper he could take care of himself, because Harper driving home Janie’s guilt would get Janie right where he wanted her: in his house and in his bed.

Janie smiled weakly. “Oh, girlfriend, you are good.”

Harper buffed her nails on her chest. “Thank you. The other benefit of you living at the ranch besides your safety? We’ll be neighbors! We can carpool to work. And you guys can come over for dinner. We can do all that fun couple stuff that I’ve been looking forward to doing as a newlywed.”

“You’ve convinced me. But don’t get your hopes up about the couple stuff, because this is a temporary situation.”

Abe didn’t quite mask his smug that’s what you think look from Harper and she grinned.

Janie sighed. “Don’t you have a store to run?”

“Nope. It’s quitting time and I’m heading home to my adoring husband.” Harper disappeared with a swish of her denim skirt.

“Not a word, Abe Lawson,” Janie warned, rolling away from him to put her feet on the floor. “Just take me to the trailer so I can pack up my stuff.”

“Sure. One other thing.”

She faced him. “What?”

“This.” Abe wrapped his hand around the back of her neck to hold her in place as he kissed her. A kiss brimming with gratefulness that she was all right. A kiss flooded with tenderness for her suffering. A kiss packed with heat, with remembrance of the past, with promise of things to come. When she clung to him, he murmured, “Want me to carry you to my truck, cupcake? Just like old times?”

Janie looked him in the eye. “No dice, cowboy. But I will let you fetch and carry my bags.”

Chapter Eleven

Janie went nearly comatose in his truck and Abe ended up carrying her into his house. She hadn’t stirred when he slipped off her coat and shoes and placed her on the bed in the spare bedroom. He covered her with a quilt and watched her sleep for several long minutes, wishing so much she was in his bed. But he wouldn’t push. Not after what she’d been through.

After a quick cattle check, he unloaded Janie’s three suitcases. Damn things were bigger than her. But with a pang of sadness he realized everything she owned was probably in those suitcases. With a stalker after her and her frequent job changes, no wonder she was ready to leave at the drop of a hat.

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