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Tangled in Divine(Divine Creek Ranch 14)(2)

By:Heather Rainier

“He’s still out there, girl. Maybe it’ll happen.” The thought made her squirm on her heated leather seat as she took the last turn that would bring the ranch house into view.

A cold chill raced up her spine as she took in the chaos reigning before her. Several unfamiliar trucks and SUVs were parked helter-skelter in front of the house at the end of the driveway. Strangers roamed between the house and barns, like busy little ants hard at work, but what they were doing, she couldn’t understand.

Her father must’ve seen her, because he came trotting out to the truck as she rolled up and put it in park. He jerked open the door and whispered, “Listen to me. I’ll answer your questions in a minute. For now, gather any personal property up front here, while I grab what I can from the living quarters in the horse trailer, and come with me into the house. Gary will see to Zephyr.”

She sat paralyzed for a moment, watching him, watching the strangers. A cold draft of air startled her into action. Her dad grabbed her heavy duffle and garment bag from the backseat of the truck as she disconnected her MP3 player from the truck’s USB port located in the leather-covered console. She pulled her emergency cash fund and her .38, carefully zipped up in its case, from the glove box, and slid those items and three CDs into her tooled-leather handbag. Grabbing the large paper tote containing Christmas gifts, she climbed from the driver’s seat, nodding to Gary as he hustled by. Gary was one of her dad’s most trusted ranch hands, and she knew her horse would be in good hands until she could figure out what was going on.

“Daddy, who are all of these men? What’s happening?”

He didn’t look her in the eye as he surveyed what she carried. “Got everything? Come on. I’ll answer your questions in the house where we can talk privately. Let’s get you in out of the cold for now.”

No kiss, no welcome home hug? This was not how she’d envisioned her final homecoming.

What the hell is going on?

Zephyr neighed again, and Gwen didn’t think it was her imagination that her horse seemed to echo the very same sentiment.

* * * *

Julián Alvarez nodded in thanks to his friend and coworker, Chris Potter, as he tossed him a breakfast taco. They unwrapped their steaming food and stood in the barn entry of the Cook Ranch, where they were employed as ranch hands, eating quickly before going back to work. They’d both risen early that morning to get chores done because they had last-minute Christmas shopping to do.

The phone in his pocket chimed softly as he stuffed the last bite of chorizo and egg wrapped in a flour tortilla in his mouth.

“Damn, these are good,” Chris muttered over a full mouth.

Julián nodded. “Cassie is a good cook. Thanks for getting the coffee too.” Chris had volunteered to make the short run into Divine to the local coffee shop, Divine Drip. Cassie Resendez, the proprietor, sold coffee, and homemade kolaches and breakfast tacos.

Chris replied unintelligibly as he chewed and unwrapped a second taco. With amusement in his eyes, he nodded at the phone in Julián’s barn jacket pocket and finally said, “You gonna see what that is?”

Julián chuckled as he finished his taco, wiped his hands on his jeans, and pulled the phone from his pocket. They both already knew what—or more accurately—who it was.

Gwen Henderson. His beautiful little barrel racing champion was a social media darling. He’d set things up so that he’d receive a notification whenever she posted a new Facebook update. The chime had signaled something new from Gwen.

He licked his lips as he swiped the screen on his smartphone, enjoying the growing curiosity on Chris’s face. Chris teased him about it, but Julián had a feeling he enjoyed Gwen’s pictures and witty updates as much as Julián did, even though Chris and Gwen had never met.

“What’s she say this time?” Chris asked with a trace of impatience in his voice.

Chuckling, Julián found her update and smiled at the picture she’d posted of a beautiful spread, undoubtedly her home in Colorado. Her family’s ranch was the center of her universe.

“She says, ‘I’m home. For good. No more life on the rodeo circuit for me.’” He turned the phone to Chris so that he could see the picture.

Chris took it from him and squinted at the screen. “Beautiful place. Looks cold.”

Julián nodded. “Quite a bit colder than it is here.” They were looking at sunny skies and temperatures reaching the high sixties that day. He typed a reply to her status update and put his phone back in his pocket.

“What did you tell her?”

“None of your damned business.”