The Ranch She Left Behind

The Ranch She Left Behind by Kathleen O`Brien Read Free Book Online

Book: The Ranch She Left Behind by Kathleen O`Brien Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kathleen O`Brien
basements, probably even Parisian basements.
    Out of nowhere, the banging started again, the firecracker pops echoing around him like gunshots. It was just the heater, complaining, but it was too late to tell himself that. His body was already reacting, before his mind could catch up.
    Pop. Bang.
    The tremor flared to life, and his arm began to shake. Then his legs softened. His knee joints grew soupy. The sounds reverberated hollowly, as if they’d been caught inside his skull, and bounced off every cranial wall.
    His heart knocked frantically, demanding his ribs to open and let it free. He fell to his knees, his elbows over his ears, his hands locked behind his head. It was dark. He smelled the oil-gas mixture of dirty power tools….
    Oh, God…
    Then, suddenly, a rectangle of silver light tilted across the floor.
    He squeezed his elbows together, somehow silencing the tremors. He took a deep breath.
    “Yes. I’ll be right up. What is it?”
    His voice sounded almost normal. She would probably assume that the edge of thin tension was merely annoyance.
    “I wanted to tell you I’m going out back. There is, like, a little orchard, over by the school. Just beyond the fence.”
    “Okay.” He took another deep breath. Her voice, even crabby and unfriendly as it always was these days, pulled him to shore, as surely as if it were a bowline tied to a dock.
    And the light helped, too. There had never been light, before….
    One muscle at a time, the trembling subsided. His heart calmed, accepting that it must stay in his body.
    “Okay,” he repeated. “Be careful, though. Stay away from the water I just drained. And don’t go so far that you can’t hear me if I call.”
    “I have my cell,” she observed sourly, as though he were being deliberately dense. But when he didn’t respond to that, she surrendered. “Okay, I’ll stay nearby. Remember, though, if you get distracted later by work or something, I did tell you where I was going.”
    “Yeah.” He stood, though he felt the need to touch the wall for balance. His head finally began to clear. “Thank you for that, Ellie. I’m really glad you did.”

    B ELL R IVER R ANCH was only two miles out of downtown Silverdell proper—which luckily didn’t leave enough driving time for doubt or insecurity to set in. Penny rolled down the windows of the rental car and let the cool early-fall breeze blow through her hair. The air smelled sweet, like Russian sage, rose and cosmos, all of which had been planted along the fringes of the Bell River property years ago. It was, to Penny, the defining scent of Home.
    And, as always, it triggered a dozen contradictory emotions inside her. Excitement. Fear. Loss. Hope.
    When she spotted the big, two-story timber-and-brick main house rising up around the bend, she slowed the car to a crawl. She needed to let her emotions move through her, giving the intensity time to subside.
    The place looked wonderful, new roof gleaming in the morning sun, grass as green as finger paint rolling out in all directions. The trees burned gold and orange and red, but were still full and leafy—the best of both summer and fall, as if the seasons had decided to share this one overlapping month of August.
    But…oh, look at all those cars. So many people! Penny had received regular updates from her sisters, so she knew that business was good, but she hadn’t quite absorbed what that meant. There would be guests everywhere. No real privacy, for explaining. And Bree’s new guy—Grayson Harper—he’d be there, too, and Penny would meet him for the first time.
    Worst of all, once Bree and Ro heard that Penny intended to stay in Silverdell, but not with them…that she’d bought her own house…
    Explaining why without hurting anyone’s feelings could take hours.
    Was she ready for all that? She glanced into the rearview mirror, into her own wide, expectant eyes, which looked abnormally bright and alive. Partly it was

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