“You didn’t have to buy me so much,” Josey said now as he drove east out of town.
“I wouldn’t want my grandmother to think that I’m cheap when it comes to my wife and her wardrobe.”
His expression sobered at the thought of his grandmother, Pepper Winchester. He didn’t give a damn what she thought, but he did want her to believe this marriage was real. It hadn’t crossed his mind to bring a “wife” along. Not until he’d picked up Josey beside the road and had this overwhelming desire to help her. No good deed goes unpunished, he could hear his father say.
Jack admitted that his motives hadn’t been completely selfless. Having a wife would allow him more freedom on the ranch, freedom he would need.
He thought of his mother and told himself he was doing this for her. It wasn’t about revenge. It was about justice.
As he glanced over at Josey, he knew he would have to be careful, though. Josey was a beautiful woman. He couldn’t afford to get involved in her trouble and lose sight of why he was really going to the ranch.
He reminded himself Josey had gone along with the “marriage” because she needed to hide out somewhere safe for a week—just as he’d suspected. What was there to worry about?
“I hope we’ve got everything we need,” he said, glancing back at Whitehorse in his rearview mirror. The tiny Western town was only about ten blocks square with more churches than bars, one of the many small towns that had spouted up beside the tracks when the railroad had come through.
“A few more miles and it will be the end of civilization as we know it,” Jack said. “There are no convenience stores out here, nothing but rolling prairie as far as the eye can see.”
“It sounds wonderful,” she said.
“I should probably fill you in on my grandmother,” Jack said, as the road turned to gravel and angled to the southeast. “She’s been a recluse for the past twenty-seven years and now, according to her attorney, she wants to see her family. The letter I received made it sound as if she is dying.”
Josey looked sympathetic. “I’m sorry. A recluse for twenty-seven years? I can understand why you might not have been close.”
“I was six the last time I saw her.” But he remembered her only too well. Her and the ranch and those long summer days with his mother, all of them living a lie.
AS JACK DROVE OUT of Whitehorse, Josey felt a little better. She’d been nervous in town, trying hard not to look over her shoulder the whole time. At the truck stop, she’d just about changed her mind. She desperately needed to put more distance between her and her past. But the only other option was hooking a ride with a trucker passing through, since there appeared to be no place in this town that she could rent a car or even buy one.
Also, why chance it when she could hide out for a week at some remote ranch? She was anxious to do the one thing she needed to do, but it would have to wait just a little longer. She certainly couldn’t chance walking into a bank in this town. It was too risky.
But then again, how risky was it pretending to be a stranger’s wife? Even as desperate as she was. Even as good-looking and normal as Jack Winchester appeared.
Who was this man? And what was the deal with his reclusive grandmother? She reminded herself how bad her judgment had been lately, her hand going to her neck beneath the scarf and making her wince with pain. She hoped she hadn’t just jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
As the Cadillac roared down the fairly wide gravel road through rolling grasslands and rocky knolls, she tried to relax. But Jack Winchester had her confused. He seemed like a nice guy, but nice guys didn’t fool their grandmothers with fake wives.
Even though she’d fought it, Josey must have dozed off. She woke as the Cadillac hit a bump and sat up, surprised to see that the road they were on had narrowed to a dirt track. The land had changed, becoming more rough, more desolate.
There were no buildings, nothing but wild country, and she had the feeling there hadn’t been for miles.
“Is the ranch much farther?” she asked, afraid she’d been duped. Again.
Sagebrush dotted the arid hills and gullies, and stunted junipers grew along rocky breaks. Dust boiled up behind the Cadillac, the road ahead more of the same.
“It’s a bit farther,” Jack said. “The ranch isn’t far from a paved highway—as the crow flies. But the only way to get there is this road, I’m afraid.”
Josey felt a prickle of fear skitter over her skin. But come on, what man would buy you clothes just to take you out in the middle of nowhere and kill you? She shuddered, thinking she knew a man exactly like that.
“You thought I was kidding about the Winchester Ranch being remote?” Jack asked with a laugh.
When he had told her about where they would be spending the week, she had thought it perfect. But now she doubted there was even a ranch at the end of this road. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d been played for a fool, but it could be the last. Josey had a bad feeling that she’d used up any luck she’d ever had a long time ago.
She shifted in her seat and drew the backpack closer, considering what she was going to do if this turned out to be another trap. Jack didn’t look like a deranged madman who was driving all this way to torture and kill her. But then RJ hadn’t looked like a deranged madman, either, had he?
She stared at the road ahead as Jack drove deeper into the wild, uninhabited country. Occasionally she would see a wheat field, but no sign of a house or another person.
As the convertible came over a rise in the road, Jack touched his brakes, even though all she could see was more of the same wild landscape. He turned onto an even less used road, the land suddenly dropping precariously.
“Are you sure you’re on the right road?” Her hand went to her backpack, heart hammering in her chest as she eased open the drawstring and closed her hand around the gun handle, realizing she had only four shots left.
“I’m beginning to wonder about that myself. I asked for directions back at a gas station in town before I picked you up, so I’m pretty sure I’m on the right road.” The car bumped down the uneven track, then turned sharply to the right. “There it is.” He sounded as relieved as she felt.
Josey looked up in surprise to see a cluster of log buildings at the base of the rugged hills behind it. A little farther down the road Jack turned under a huge weathered wooden arch, with the words Winchester Ranch carved in it.
Her relief was almost palpable. Josey released her hold on the pistol, trying to still her thundering heart as the Cadillac bumped down the narrow dirt road toward the ranch buildings.
She frowned, noting suddenly how the grass had grown between the two tracks in the road, as if it hadn’t had much use. As they grew closer, she saw that the cluster of log buildings looked old and … deserted.
Josey reminded herself that the grandmother had been a recluse for the past twenty-seven years. At least that was what Jack had said. So she probably hadn’t had a lot of company or use on the road.