Authors: N Kuhn
I’d like to dedicate this book to Kelli Smith. Since I began writing, she has been my number 1 fan, supporter, and I’m happy to call her my friend. This book is for you!
Text Copyright © 2014 Nicole Kuhn
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Ten Years Ago
, I’ll meet you there. I just have to help my dad.” That’s what Mitchell said to me. He promised to meet me by the creek. Our spot. Rushing down the driveway, I round the stables, trying to get to our place before dark. Spending too much time with the horses, I lost track of time and he may get there before me now. It’s what I do. I love Mustangs, and they just got a few new ones in. My favorite way to spend a cozy evening is just getting lost in thought, petting, brushing, and cleaning the horses. I know this ranch like the back of my hand, but it’s still hard to navigate without a light. In my hurry to see Mitch, I forgot mine, but I know he’ll have his. As I reach the end of the stables, I collide with something hard. Falling to the ground, I groan, pain shooting up my back. As I look up, I see Cameron, Mitch’s brother. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, we just don’t get along. He doesn’t like seeing his brother get close with the helps daughter, like his parents. The Calhoun’s are a very well off family in our small town of Concan, Texas. They have the biggest, wealthiest ranch, pay their employees well and even provide housing for most of them, like me and my mom. When dad left her five years ago, she got a job in the kitchen here, cooking for the family and their ranch hands. She’s gone all day and most of the night, so I’m usually free to do what I want. Mitch and I used to play together. But now that we’re sixteen, his mom has been acting weird about us spending so much time together. Apparently she doesn’t think I’m good enough for her son anymore. My straight A grades and spotless reputation mean nothing to her. It’s my breeding she doesn’t like.
“Where you rushing to Kel?” I hate the way my name sounds coming from his mouth. “Running off to do my brother in the woods?” Though Cameron is two years older than us, he’s the same height as Mitch and more immature. Both boys stand a little over six feet tall, short black hair, and baby blue eyes. Cameron is heavier though. Mitch plays sports and stays fit, Cameron, well, he doesn’t do anything and it shows. His pudgy hands reach down, grasping my arm as he yanks me to my feet. A small squeak escapes my lips. He scares me, I’m never comfortable being alone with him. I wipe my hands down the leg of my jeans, trying to brush off the dirt. My pink tank top is filthy now too.
“I’m a virgin Cameron. Your brother is a gentleman, unlike you,” I spew at him. Without warning, his hand flies in front of my face, knocking my head sideways. He slapped me, I can’t believe he just did that. Blood trickles from my lip into my mouth as the shock begins to wear off. The tangy taste turns my stomach and my cheek feels like it’s on fire.
“Leave me alone Cameron,” I manage to sputter. He pushes me against the barn, pinning me between his sweaty body and the wooden wall. He smells bad and I can barely breathe. My body trembles with fear as my heart races.
“Well, maybe my little brother isn’t the golden man everyone thinks he is. He can’t get it up with you? Why don’t you give me a try? I’m sure I can take care of you.” I try to squirm out of his grasp, but he outweighs me and I’m stuck. His hand that’s not pinning me to the wall starts groping my body. I feel him probing my breast, splaying his fingers over my hips. Feeling like I’m going to throw up, I close my eyes as tears start to fall. He moves his lips from my neck, to the top of my breast. His fingers spreading across my stomach, inching my clothing up. I begin kicking but he shifts his feet so he is able to lock my legs in place. His hand moves down farther and my heart is pounding in my ears. My fear has me losing my breath and I start gasping.
“Come on Kel, give me a try? Maybe I can actually get it up. It’s not like you’re hot, you’re just something easy. Or maybe it’s just that my brother doesn’t even want you. Maybe you’re too ugly, not enough little woman for him to waste his time with.” Before I can stop it, my dinner makes its way up my throat and I throw up on him.
“You stupid bitch,” Cameron yells, stepping back as the vomit drips from his shirt. Free from his hold, I turn to run away from him. He grabs my arm, tackling me to the ground. Pain erupts in my shoulder. Straddling on top of me, he pulls his arm back, swinging and hitting me harder this time with his whole fist. My cheek flares in agonizing pain and stars dance before my eyes, my nose throbbing. Looking down at himself, he looks like he’s going to be sick. He peels off the shirt, throwing it on top of me. I stay still, afraid to move again, but he storms off, muttering about me being trash. He turns back to me.
“You’re just a piece of ass Kelli, Mitch doesn’t love you. If he did, he’d have been here walking with you in the dark, not up in the house hanging all over Penny Miller,” he yells over his shoulder as he gets further away from me. Pushing myself to my feet, I take off running for the woods again, bleeding and hurting. My eye will barely open and must have swollen instantly. As I scramble down the path for our spot near the creek, I stumble and fall several times, cutting up the legs of my jeans. I’m unable to see the path clearly. As I reach our spot, I look around, but Mitch isn’t here. Sitting myself near the water, I splash some up, trying to wash away what food I brought up and to clean the blood off my face. Mitch is going to flip when he finds out what happened. Normally Cameron just teases me. He’s never touched me until now. I try to stay out of their way when they fight, but I know this will send Mitch over the edge. I don’t want to be something that comes between him and his family. But it’s not safe for me to let Cameron get away with that behavior. What if he tries again, what if he succeeds at raping me? Craning my neck, I try to listen for the sound of Mitch walking up the path, but hear nothing. What if Cameron is right? Mitch and I have talked about sex, but I told him I wasn’t ready. He told me he would wait for me. What if he really is hanging out with Penny? She’s the tall blonde head cheerleader who’s always trying to get in between us at school. She’s the beautiful type of girl that every guy wants. The Mayor’s daughter. The rich girl who gets what she wants, and what she wants is Mitch. I had thought he was immune to her. I hope Cameron isn’t right.
After waiting for an hour and a half hour, its pitch black out. The clouds hide the moon, making it almost too dark to see my way back. Exhausted, hurting and crying, I make my way for home. After falling several times on the way, my knees are scraped and bleeding, my jeans are torn and my tank top is ripped. My head is throbbing and my face is swollen from where Cameron hit me. The tears finally stopped. As I emerge from the woods, I can see people on the front porch of the main house. I have to walk right by it to get to our bunk house out back, there’s no way to avoid it. Hanging my head, I attempt to avoid anyone seeing my condition. The closer I get, the more clear it becomes to me. Cameron was right. Penny’s here, and she’s standing on the porch with her arms wrapped around Mitch. I watch in horror as she leans in towards him, her hands pulling him close to her. As they kiss, my heart breaks into a million pieces.
“We’ll always be together Sugar,” Mitch’s voice flits through my mind. He was always saying that. Lies, it’s all been lies. I wouldn’t give up my virginity yet and he’s moved on. I really am not good enough for him. After thinking I was drained of tears, they flow again. I lift my head as I walk by, trying to regain some of my dignity. It’s too late though, as Mitch finally notices me.
“Kel, wait, please,” he yells, jumping over the railing of the porch to come after me. I don’t stop or slow down. Marching towards my home, I ignore him. My chest rattling with sobs, I try to contain myself, unwilling to let Mitch see the pain he’s caused. I’m sure the two of them will be laughing about it together later. I can hear Penny on the porch yelling at him to come back to her. Right as I get to the little cottage like bunk house my mom and I share with the ranch foreman, Mitch reaches me. Grabbing my arm, he turns me to face him. I rip myself from his grip, wincing in pain. Cameron must have left a bruise there earlier. In the light from our front door, he can clearly see my face, and the shock is written all over his.
“What the hell happened to you Sugar? Are you okay?” He pulls me against him trying to hug me. Shoving him off of me, I glare at him. He starts to reach a hand out towards my face but I pull away.
“I’m not your Sugar. Why don’t you just run back to Penny.”
“You’re joking right? She kissed me. She showed up out of nowhere and kissed me. I have been trying to get away from her all evening, that’s why I sent Cameron to tell you I was going to be late.” His eyes roam from my head to my feet, taking in all my injuries. “Please, Sugar, what happened to you?” The look of concern on his face causes me to laugh.
“Oh Mitch, you’re good. You’re a great actor. Maybe you should join drama with Penny. I’m sure she’ll at least put out for you. As for what happened to me, maybe you should ask your brother.” Spinning on my heel, I rush into my house, locking the door behind me. Risking a glance out the window, he’s still standing in the front light. His face is red, hands clenched at his sides. Turning my back on him, I run up to my room to get clean before my mother sees me.
When my mom finally shows up from work, I’m sitting on the couch, an ice pack on my lip. I’m going to have a black eye and my mouth is split open.
“What in the hell happened to you girl?” My mom sits down next to me, pulling my hand away from my face.
“Mom, I want to go live with dad in San Antonio.” She looks shocked. I’ve visited my dad here and there since he left, but I’ve always wanted to rush back here, to be on the ranch, to be with Mitch. But now, I can’t wait to get out of here.
“Honey, Jeff doesn’t live the kind of lifestyle that’s suitable for a young lady to be brought up in. Now tell me what happened to you.” She lifts the ice pack from my mouth and I can see the pain in her eyes. My heart aches knowing that I’m hurting her, but I can’t stay in this place. I won’t allow myself to be the laughing stock of our school, or see Mitch and Penny together every day. I can’t do it.
“Mom, either you call him and I go live with him or I’m running away. I won’t spend another day on this ranch.”
“Did you and Mitch have a fight? Did he hit you?” Her raised voice draws Buck, the foreman, out of our kitchen. As he leans on the doorway, he takes in the scene. I like Buck, he’s been good to my mom and I know she won’t be lonely without me. They won’t admit it, but there’s something going on between them. My mom will do just fine without me. I need to go. Standing, I head towards the stairs to my room. Turning at the door, I look at my mom over my shoulder.
“I’ll go pack.”
The next morning, as my father’s beat up Chevy pulls on to the road, all of my belongings in the bed of his truck, I look in the mirror, getting a last glance at the Triple C’s Ranch sign that hangs over the driveway.
“Girlie, you don’t have to tell us what happened, but I’m telling you this. First thing we’re doing is getting you karate lessons. No man or boy will ever put his hands on my baby girl again,” my father says. I know it bothers him to see me with a black eye and bruises on my face, but it really shouldn’t. It’s not like he was here for me growing up. Now he thinks he can just waltz in and be my daddy? I suppose I’ll have to get over that, seeing as how he is letting me come stay with him and not pressuring me to talk. Sighing, I look out my window, watching the scenery pass by. I used to think I would spend my life on that ranch. Life will never be the same for me again. But maybe that’s a good thing.
Present – Kelli
Man I want to choke the crap out of Billy Joe. When I catch his ass, he’s done. Jeff and I have been chasing him for a week now through Garner State Park. All these forest and hills are becoming redundant. As the horses slow down to a trot, I scan the scene before me. Nothing but more trees. We have scoured the whole forest already, but every time we get close, he moves on. Having spent the last ten years training in self-defense, weapons and tracking, my dad finally got the partner he wanted, even if I was a girl. Opening Smith and Smith Bonds was the first time I’ve seen my dad look at me with pride. When I moved in with him, he didn’t seem to know how to act around me. You would have thought I was an alien. But when I showed an interest in boxing and guns, he started to warm up to me. Our quality time was spent training me to be just like him. Now, we’re the top of the line bounty hunters in all of Texas. We have other agencies come to us for skips they can’t find. Billy Joe Fenton is wanted for robbing a bank in Dallas. Some idiot judge had released him on bail and put an ankle bracelet on him. Well, they were unaware that Billy Joe not only knows how to rig electronics, like a tracking device that didn’t even alert the police it was off his ankle, but also, he is very good at surviving outside. Which we have had the displeasure of finding out. He’s been living up in these hills for who knows how long. After missing court last week, they sent us after him, and everything led us here. People are speculating that he went after the money that was never found when he was picked up by the cops. Others think he’s involved with the mob and that they made him disappear. Either way, it’s our job to bring him back.
I love being outdoors and riding horses, but for fun, not trailing a convict. Plus, I was supposed to get some action the other night from my now and then booty call. Beau is the type of guy that hits and runs, and that’s all I want. It works great for both of us. I get lonely, I give him a call. Now I’m horny, tired, smell like horses and sweat, and am sick of being out in these woods. What I wouldn’t give to be home, taking a nice long bubble bath. I can almost smell my vanilla and sugar scrub right now. Laughing to myself, I glance over at my father.
“What’s so funny kid?” he asks me, his eyes shining with humor.
“I was thinking about how bad we smell and that I could really go for a bath. I’m not the bubble bath kid of girl, but right now, I’d relish a long soak.”
“Well kid, let’s get this wrapped up then, huh? I think we’ve been out here long enough. We’ve got to be close to him.” Shrugging my shoulders, I just humor him. He’s been saying that all week. But I deal with it. My father picked me up out of a depression and helped turn my life into something meaningful. Never again will I let a man control my emotions like I did in the past. I live my life for me.
“See that?” Jeff asks me, pointing off towards the horizon. A wisp of smoke floats in the sky from the valley below. A campfire. Nodding, I look down at the map we got from the park rangers.
“There’s a stream over there in the valley. Good place for him to hide. Water, low lying area, and a few caves around there. Why would he be cooking out in the open?” I ask my father. He just shakes his head. Kicking Shelby, his horse in gear, I follow suit. Sansa, my chocolate mustang, hurries to catch up. It only takes us about twenty minutes to climb that far down into the valley. Dismounting, we tie the horses up to a tree. I check my Glock and make sure it’s full of ammo. I hook a set of cuffs to my belt, stick the gun in my shoulder holster and pluck the satellite phone from my saddle bag.
“We don’t need that. It’s just one more thing to weigh you down,” Jeff says.
“You never know and out here, I’d rather be safe than sorry.” I bend down, sliding my hunting knife into the holster under my jeans. I’ll be so happy to get back into San Antonio and back into my yoga pants and tees, sleep in a real bed, get me some ass. Being out here, it’s all tight jeans, long sleeve shirts and boots. Easier to climb, ride and run but not very comfortable, especially when sleeping on the ground. I stand, stretching out my limbs. Hours of riding has made my body stiff. Silently, we move off to the left. Jeff signals for me to go around the right so we can flank him. As I move slowly to remain quiet, I make my way through the trees, trying to emerge on the opposite side of the camp that’s set up. Before I get there, I hear shouting, then a gunshot.
Not worrying about being quiet any longer, I take off at a dead run. As I enter the little clearing, I see Jeff laying on the ground, someone standing over him. The man doesn’t even realize I’m coming at him. Lowering my torso, I duck my head and extend my arms. As my shoulder connects with the man’s side, I squeeze tightly with my arms, holding his against his body. We both fall to the ground. He struggles, trying to get me off of him but I have a death grip.
“Dad, you okay?” I ask, breathlessly, trying to get the man to lie still. I haven’t seen his face, so I can’t verify if it’s Billy Joe or not.
“I-I’m good kiddo,” comes my father’s voice. He sounds weak and doesn’t sit up. His hand is pressed to his shoulder. As I lift up onto my knees, I let go of the man with one arm, grabbing my gun before he can move too far. Pointing the barrel at his temple, he stops his struggle.
“Don’t move asshole.” I reach onto my belt and unclip the cuffs. One handed, I slap them onto his wrists. Standing, I kick at him, enjoying the soft whimper as my toe connects with his stomach.
“Police brutality, you can’t do that,” Billy Joe cries out. Standing over him, seeing his face, I can confirm its him. The same face I’ve been staring at every night before bed, memorizing each tiny detail.
“Good thing we ain’t the police, huh?” I say to him over my shoulder as I turn to my father.
Dropping to my knees, I try to assess the situation. Blood seeps through my father’s fingers. He’s been shot. I instantly jump to action. Looking around, I see a small pile of clothes that Billy Joe must have recently washed. I grab a shirt from the top, and run back to Jeff. Pressing the slightly damp material over the wound, I move his hand on top of the shirt to hold it in place.
“Are you hit anywhere else? I only heard the one shot, was there more?” Jeff shakes his head no. Slowly, I try to roll him to his side, checking for an exit wound. There isn’t one, so either Billy Joe wasn’t close when he shot at dad, or it was a low power gun. I scan the dirt around us, finally seeing a small .22 sitting near the fire. Pushing to my feet, I head over, grabbing it and I take it over near dad. His rifle is laying about a foot away from him. I dig the satellite phone out and move around, making sure I have a signal. Dialing the number to the Park Ranger station, I wait. After calling three times, someone finally answers.
“Ranger Drake. Garner State Park.” Drake was the go to person when we arranged our search of the Park. He’s a sweet guy, shy, quiet type, and young. But he gets his job done.
“Drake, this is Kelli, we found our felon, but my dad’s been shot. What are our chances of getting a med evac out here?”
“What are your coordinates?”
“Hang on,” I say as I lean down over Jeff. He had the map in the pocket of his coat. Rifling through the jacket, he moans in pain.
“Sorry dad, I’m trying to take it easy. Need that ma- Shit!”
Staring down at the shredded piece of paper in my hand, what’s left of it is covered in blood. The bullet had gone through Jeff’s pocket with the map and into his body. So not only is there a bullet in there, but other materials, and I know that can cause infection. My heart races, adrenaline pumps as I begin to worry.
“Well Drake, anyway you can triangulate us? Seems our map was shot too.” I stand walking back over to Billy Joe and kick him again to relieve some of the anger that’s bubbling in the pit of my stomach. His yelp of pain soothes my anger a little.
“Not really. We don’t have that kind of equipment here. Budget cuts and all. What’s the last position you were in? What I can do is get a couple rangers out there to pick you up and guide you to a landing zone. How bad is the wound?” I proceed to tell him the last coordinates I remember which were a few miles back. The wound isn’t fatal yet, but if he keeps losing blood it will be. Drake said that they will get a chopper to drop some Rangers into the hills at our last coordinates and to just meet them back there. Hanging up the phone, I look around the tiny campsite. There’s an awful lot of stuff here for just one person. I have to wonder if Billy Joe has been sneaking into town to grab supplies. Brushing off the thought, I try to figure out how to do this.
“Dad, I’ll be back, okay? I need to go get the horses. We’ll have to hump it a bit to get to the evac zone. Okay?” His eyes flutter and he doesn’t respond. I pull Billy Joe up into a sitting position and try to drag him over to a tree.
“You can’t do this to me. You can’t leave me like this. Where are you going? What if a panther comes by? You’re leaving me for dead.” Getting in his face, I lean in as close as I can without touching him. Jamming my gun into his shoulder, I dare him to move.
“You need to shut up. I’ve been stuck in these woods for a week because of you. You shot my dad. I’ll be happy if a panther chews on your ass. It will be less of you to lug back and I get my bounty dead or alive.” His face pales but he shuts up. Spinning on my feet, I turn to my dad.
Taking the rope dad had latched to his belt, I wind it around Billy Joe, fastening him to the tree. Surveying the surroundings, I grab a sleeping bag and unzip it, covering Jeff with it. Not that it’s real cold here in Texas, but it’s not overly hot here in the woods. The shade makes the air feel crisper than usual. With the amount of blood he’s losing, keeping him warm is important.
“I’ll be right back,” I whisper to him softly, knowing he can’t hear me. Quickly winding my way back to the horses, the steam is practically rising from my head. I’m so pissed off. This is ridiculous. The guy is a moron. How did he get the jump on us like that? Slowing to walk up next to the horses without spooking them, I reach out to untie the reins from the trees. As I begin to lead both animals back to the campsite, I’m shocked still by the rattling from the bushes. Shit, just what I need right now, a rattle snake. I hate those things and the nasty little buggers always show up when you don’t have time to deal with it. Thoughts of Mitch flash in my head. Tramping down the memories, I focus, scanning the ground to search for the offending beast. Of course during a high stress situation, my mind is going to betray me with thoughts of that jerk off. The horses become antsy, pulling at the reins in my hands. Taking a step back, I keep my eyes on the brush. As the snake slithers from under the leaves, Sansa rears up and I fall to the ground. Letting go of the leads, Shelby takes the chance, turning and galloping away. Rolling away from Sansa’s hooves just as they collide with the ground, the squish I hear means she must have killed the snake. Still hopping around scared, I stand trying to calm Sansa down. As she falls to the ground again, I hear a loud crunch. Closing my eyes, I take in a deep breath before looking at the dirt. My sat phone. It must have fallen out of my pocket as I rolled out of danger. Crap. As I reach out for the saddle, trying to still Sansa, she twists her body, knocking me down again and runs off after Shelby. Damn it. How am I supposed to get these two out of this valley with no horses and no phone? Slowly standing, I wipe the dirt off of my jeans. My ass hurts from falling on it twice now. Feeling defeated, I slowly walk back to the campsite.
“You can’t keep me tied up like this, it’s cruel!” Before I even reach the clearing I can hear Billy Joe crying.
“Hey, where are the horses? How are we going to get out of here? You can just let me go, please? If I go to jail, I’m going to die. They are going to kill me.”
“I’m going to kill you if you don’t shut up!” I scream at him as I kneel down next to Jeff. His eyes are closed, but he’s still breathing, that’s good. The shirt he placed over the bullet wound was soaked with blood, the dirt around his body clotted with the drying liquid. Moving his hand, I lift the material. The bleeding seems to have slowed. That’s good news too. Looking at my surroundings, I try to formulate a plan. I have no choice. I have to get to that landing zone, and it looks like I’ll be going alone.
“Listen lady, I’m serious, let me go or get me out of here. We have to get out of here! That gun shot just gave away our position.”
“Your smoke gave away your position you dumbass. We’re the only bounty hunters out looking for you. Your contract was given to us. No one else is looking for you.”
“You don’t get it lady. That bank I robbed, it was a job for the Gessatti family. I botched the job and they want that money. If I go to jail, they will kill me, if they find me, they will kill me. Why do you think I’ve been hiding in the woods?”
“Because you’re a little bitch and can’t handle jail?”
“Stop calling me lady. My name is Kelli. You’re going to jail. You need to go to court and face the consequences of your crime.
End of subject. If you keep talking, I’m going to start shooting.”
“Kelli, they have people on the inside. I’m not afraid of jail. I’ve been there before. I’m afraid of not making it out alive.”
“Trust me, we’ve spent a week in these woods chasing you and there’s no one else out here but us, and in about an hour, some Texas Rangers with our evac.”
Walking away from him for a moment, I look at the supplies. Pillow, more rope, guns, grenades, knives. Man, this guy really must be afraid of something. He’s armed to the teeth. Who needs grenades in the forest? What if he’s telling the truth? What if there’s really is someone else looking for him? Not that I can’t handle myself, but I’ll have to stay extra alert now. Looking back over at Jeff, even if I help him walk, he’s not going to make it to the landing zone. I have no choice. I have to hump it myself and then bring the Rangers back. Grabbing the pillow, I prop it up against a tree opposite of Billy Joe. Slowly and carefully I drag Jeff over to it, propping him up, trying to get his wound above his heart. Hopefully his blood loss will lessen then. I lay a canteen of water next to him, as well as his rifle. Lightly slapping his face, I try to bring him around. His eyes flutter open.
“Hey kiddo,” his voice sounding raspy.
“Hey dad, listen, the horses were spooked by a rattler. I need to hike to the landing zone for the helicopter and bring help back, okay? I don’t like leaving you alone like this, but I shouldn’t be more than two hours. So I need you to try to stay awake ok? Your gun is next to you, water on the other side and Billy Joe is tied up. You understand?” He nods as his eyes begin to close again. I slap his cheek.
“Stay with me dad. Wake up, please!” He opens them again, nodding.
“Go kiddo. See you soon.” Standing, I glare at Billy Joe.
“Keep your mouth shut and don’t bother him.” The fear I see in his eyes is alarming. He really is scared. What if panthers and rattlers aren’t all we need to worry about out here? Sighing, I turn and begin the hike back up the hill to the area the helicopter will be landing in.