He’d seen the appreciative glances she’d sent him last night at the wedding. And again today he’d caught her eyeballing his chest—so he’d obliged her need to ogle him by removing his shirt.

And ogle him she had.

Abe knew his physical appearance had changed. His rangy build became bulky after Hank quit bullfighting and they’d started lifting weights together. Those hours sweating and pumping iron had definitely been worth it, seeing the heated lust in Janie’s eyes. It was only a matter of time—and his patience—before teasing words and hot looks wouldn’t be enough.

He hung a left on the gravel road, suspecting Janie had taken the shortcut to the highway, which didn’t shave off more than thirty extra seconds from the paved road. Not that she ever believed him.

He’d driven this stretch so many times he usually let his mind wander. But he noticed fresh skid marks in the gravel immediately. Then his gaze snagged on the ass end of a car sticking out of the ditch.

Not just any car. Janie’s car.

Everything went into slow motion.

He jammed both feet on the brakes until his rig shuddered to a stop. While the voice in his head screamed no no no, not Janie, he threw the gearshift in park and half ran/half slid down the dry grass covering the embankment. He reached for his phone and dialed 911. Somehow he remained calm as he stood beside the mangled car and explained the situation. The voice on the other end of the phone assured him the ambulance and sheriff’s deputy had been dispatched. Major problem with living in rural Wyoming: they were a long way from medical treatment facilities.

Don’t look, man. Just stay the hell away and wait.

But he couldn’t. When he crouched down, he saw the air bag had deployed. Thank you, Jesus. Janie was slumped across it, her head turned the opposite direction—but not at an unnatural angle. The windshield had shattered, scattering glass everywhere.

He had half a mind to wrench the door free and extract her himself. But deep down, he knew that might cause more harm to her body. The last thing he’d ever do was cause her more pain. Feeling helpless and heartsick, he dialed his brother, hoping Lainie was home and could offer medical insight.

Hank answered on the first ring. “Abe. What’s up?”

“The wheels on Janie’s car. Is Lainie around?”

“No. She’s workin’ second shift.” Pause. “What do you mean the wheels on Janie’s car?” After Abe rattled off an explanation, Hank said, “I’m on my way.”

Abe’s answering, “You don’t have to—” was lost in the dial tone.

He talked to Janie. Making promises. Telling her every sappy, sexy, sassy thing he’d noticed about her since she’d returned to Muddy Gap on the off chance she was conscious.

The spray of gravel dragged his attention to the road. Abe glanced up as Hank started down the incline with Celia close on his heels.

“Is she okay?” were the first words out of Celia’s mouth.

“I don’t know. I haven’t even opened the damn car door.”

Celia ran her palm down Abe’s forearm and squeezed his hand. “Hard as that may be, you’ve done the right thing.”

“Well, looks to me like she’s still breathin’ or else I might’ve done something rash.”

“Understandable,” Hank said. “How long ago did this happen?”

“She came out to get some boxes for Harper. I left the ranch about twenty minutes after she did. I figured she’d take the short cut and this is what I came upon.”

As the three of them looked into the window, Janie stirred.

“Janie.” Abe’s heart kicked hard and he placed his palm against the glass, wishing he could reach through and touch her. “Don’t move. We’re gonna get you outta there.”

Her head lifted and then it fell back.

No one spoke. Abe remained crouched, staring inside the vehicle, willing her to show more signs of consciousness as Hank and Celia walked the perimeter of the car. Willing her to be all right. Trying like hell not to burst into tears or scream his rage and frustration. He breathed slowly, knowing he’d freak out his family if he gave in to those impulses. Abe Lawson had a reputation for being cool, calm and collected, no matter what the situation.

He sure as f**k didn’t feel that way now. He felt like the bottom had dropped out of his world.

Wailing sirens became louder. Abe stepped aside when the EMTs scrambled down the embankment with a gurney. One guy pried open the door and began examining Janie, tossing off comments and medical lingo to the other EMT.

Footsteps shuffled next to him and he looked into Deputy TJ McConnell’s face. “Lawson.”

“Deputy.”

“Did I hear right? The woman in this car is your ex-wife?”

“Yep.”

“You have a friendly relationship with her?”

Weird question. “Yeah.”

“How’d you happen to run across her vehicle?”

“She left my place and I was meeting her at the Split Rock to drop off the rest of the boxes in the back of my truck.”

“So you’ve no reason to want her harmed or dead?”

“Hell no. Why?”

McConnell sidled in front of Abe, blocking his view of the paramedics. “She was struck from behind. Repeatedly. I’m guessing it was a truck of some kind.”

Abe’s eyes narrowed. “You askin’ me if I ran Janie off the road?”

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