Chapter Thirteen

Renner flicked a glance at the brunette as she breezed past him. He’d hidden in the corner at Buckeye Joe’s with a Crown and water, which sat mostly untouched. Not in the mood to drink, he’d just needed a break from the resort for a little while.

He snorted. Resort. Even he’d started calling it that, instead of the term “ranch” he preferred.

Just another thing he blamed on Tierney.

Her perfectly polite smackdown still stung. Dividing is not conquering, Renner. All we’re doing is pitting our employees against each other by expecting them to choose sides between you and me. Can’t we just try to get along for the greater good? Managerial infighting isn’t the way to do that.

And what words of wisdom had he lobbed back at her?

He’d insulted her. Talk about mature. Now here he was, brooding in the corner. He let his hat shadow his face, trying to look like just another anonymous cowboy drowning his sorrows.

His wishful thinking lasted about five minutes.

“Jackson? What’re you doin’ here?”

Sheriff Bullard’s belt was at Renner’s eye level. He glanced at the sidearm strapped on the right side, and his eyes traveled up Bullard’s rotund torso. The gray-haired man had been the law around here for over twenty years and had that “fess up” vibe down pat. “You cruising through hopin’ to bust underage drinkers?”

“Yep. Susan is good at tossing them sneaky suckers out, but she don’t got eyes in the back of her head. I’m just doin’ a run-through ’fore I get on home.”

“I’ll buy you a drink if you’re off the clock.”

Bullard waggled the Styrofoam coffee cup. “Got mine right here. But I’ll join ya for a bit, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. Have a seat.”

The sheriff pulled out the chair, tossed his hat on the table and swallowed a slug of coffee before he spoke. “How’re things up at the Split Rock?”

Renner shrugged. “Good. I’d be happier if all the rooms were full every night, but we still don’t have the staff to handle that, so I’m grateful for what we’ve got.”

“Slow and steady wins the race, eh?”

“I suppose so.” Renner sipped his drink. “Any complaints from the locals?”

“Nah. You must have a good crew ’cause I’ve heard no grumbling at all.”

“That would be Janie Fitzhugh’s doing.”

Bullard frowned again. “She’s Abe Lawson’s ex-wife.”

Renner knew that term grated on Janie. “Any new information on the vehicle that ran her off the road?”

“None. It’s the damndest thing. Stuff like that don’t happen around here.”

“Unless it was someone who’d been drinking and didn’t wanna face the music.”

The sheriff harrumphed. “Abe’s just damn lucky he came upon the accident so fast on that remote section of road. Coulda been a whole lot worse.”

“True.” Rather than make idle chitchat, Renner seized the opportunity to talk to Bullard without an audience. “When I was talkin’ to Abe last year, he mentioned something about the tract of land I purchased bein’ bad luck land.”

“You’re talkin’ about the section that used to belong to your grandparents?”

Renner nodded. “Without sounding all woo-woo and shit, Janie’s accident happened alongside that land. And Willie, our jack-of-all-trades, says he gets a bad vibe.”

“And?”

“And I understand some nasty stuff has gone down with people who’ve bought that land over the years. It’s changed hands, what, half a dozen times since my grandparents owned it?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So, no one in my family has ever told me what happened when my grandfather died. I’ve heard ‘accident’ and the subject was changed. I understand them not telling me the truth when I was a boy, but them days are long gone.”

Bullard eased back and stretched his arm along the back of the chair beside him. “You asking me what happened?”

Renner met the man’s hard gaze head on. “Yes. I am.”

“Why don’t you tell me what your family has told you.”

“Grandpa was out checking cattle. His horse threw him, and he broke his neck. By the time Grandma found him, he was dead.” He paused. “No disrespect to my late grandma, but the hushed tone whenever this was brought up, gave me the feeling family members suspected she’d somehow... killed him.”

Bullard’s frown morphed into a smile. “Son, is that what’s been eatin’ at you? The fear that sweet Rona Harking might’ve offed her husband?”

“Maybe.”

“We had considered that angle, given the circumstances. But I suspect your family didn’t talk about it simply because it upset your grandma. She got a mite . . . hysterical after she found your granddad. Took a tranq to calm her down after we loaded the body for transport. Anyway, the coroner ruled it ‘death by misadventure’ which comes back to your original question of it bein’ bad luck land.”

“Do you believe it is?”

“Yep. But I’m Crow Indian, so I believe a lot of stuff others don’t.”

Almost word for word what Willie had said, but neither had given him a concrete way to deal with it. “Great. I don’t suppose you have any Crow Indian good luck charms I could borrow to ward off bad juju?”

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