Taking Back Tara (Ranch Lovers Romance)

BOOK: Taking Back Tara (Ranch Lovers Romance)
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Taking Back
Tara

A Romance Story

by

Eve Paludan

 

©
2011
by Eve Paludan

Published by Eve Paludan,
Editor/Author for
NoTreeBooks.com
.

 

Cover Design: Eve Paludan

Cover Photo: Licensed from Jim
Glab through Shutterpoint.com

 

Amazon Kindle Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If
you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an
additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book
and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you
should return to Amazon and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting
the hard work of this author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously.

 
 

Dedication

 

To DHD, for proving
to me that chivalry is not dead.

 
 
 

Taking Back
Tara

 

Rain glistening on his dove-gray Stetson
and pooling in the brim, Zane McKenna tilted his head forward to dump the
accumulation, then knocked on the door of the vintage Airstream, which listed
at an awkward angle in the middle of the dirt road, right where the axle had
busted the year before, just after Tara’s second husband had burned down their
house. Tara had bought the blasted trailer from a
junkyard. To
live
in. She’d gotten it
just over the cattle guard on her dead husband’s ranch before it broke down.

“Tara Lee
Turner,” Zane said her maiden name to the door, “It’s your first husband.” He
paused. “Don’t shoot this time, okay?” The last time he’d come out, she’d shot
at him. Well, up in the air, but still, it had not been a neighborly welcome
from his ex-wife.

There was no
sound from inside the Airstream. “I know you said you wanted your privacy, but
come on, angel face, open the door.” He knocked louder, his leather-gloved
hands smarting from the wet cold. There was no answer from within.

“I usually see
your lights at night, with my telescope, but I didn’t see any last night. Are
you OK?” He pounded this time. There was no reply.

“I’m gonna open
the door, Tara.” Zane tried the handle of the trailer.
Not locked.
He wiped his muddy boots on
the welcome mat and climbed the little steps. He turned the knob slowly.

“I swear, Tara,
I won’t even
look
at your face if you
still don’t want me to.” He opened the door a few inches and the hinges
creaked. The trailer was dark inside, the shades drawn. He flipped on the light
switch by the door and pushed it open all the way. The first breath he inhaled
inside the trailer almost bowled him over with the stench of something rotten.

“What in the
name of get-all is that?!” he exclaimed. He lifted the lid of a pot on the
stovetop. Raw pinto beans were swelled with water as if she had been soaking
them to cook. A slimy mold bubbled like some science fiction creature, as if
the pot had sat there for a few days and had taken on a life of its own. He
wrinkled his nose and slammed the lid back on the pot.

“Shit, that’s
nasty.” Tara was so finicky, she never would have left
beans to soak so long that they spoiled.
Unless
something happened to her.

His heart
pounding, Zane strode the two paces to the curtained-off bedroom and flipped on
the light. The bed was neatly made. He checked the tiny bathroom and found
everything in order, except for one thing. The bathroom mirror was completely
covered in black electrical tape. He shuddered when he saw it. He even opened
the slim shower door to see if she was pressed against the wall.
Nope.

Then Zane
looked in the tiny clothes closet to see if she was hiding from him, but all he
saw in there was black clothing. Black shirts. Black jeans. The black dress
she’d worn to Hugh’s funeral and the black hat with the monstrous, morbid black
veil that covered her burned face completely. The ugliest black terry bathrobe
he’d ever seen hung on a hook on the closet door.

“Son of a
bitch! She’s gone completely loco and is channeling Johnny Cash.”

 

***

 

“Come out, come
out wherever you are. Beauty, it’s your harmless old Beast come around on a
welfare check,” Zane called inside her empty barn from the back of his blue
roan gelding that exactly matched his Stetson. Her Dodge Ram dually truck was
in the barn and the keys hung from the dusty ignition. He frowned.

A great horned
owl slipped down from the shadows and near-grazed his shoulder. Blue, his
bomb-proof horse only flicked his ears a mite, but stood quietly. The owl
slipped out the open barn door, as soundlessly as Zane’s exhaled breath as he
listened for Tara to reply. She did not.

Tara’s
horse was gone, the last livestock that she hadn’t sold in her grand plan to
sell everything so she could leave the state and go God knows where with her
scarred face that he hadn’t seen since before it was ruined in the fire that
took Hugh, the snake she’d up and left him for.

Zane dismounted
and tried to find hoof prints leading out from the barn but the pouring rain
had obliterated any tracks that Lucky might have left.

Zane threw
Blue’s reins over a hitching post and he walked a short distance away, up a
hill, so’s he could see down into the valley. Then he tried to recall Ty and
Fly, who both used to be his dogs, but had followed Tara
when she’d left him. Zane whistled short piercing pips through his teeth, as
high pitched as he could make them and shouted down into the valley, “Fly,
here! Ty, here!” just like in the old days. He whistled as loud as he could and
called the dogs until his throat felt raw.

There was no
use searching thousands of acres for her if he could get one of the dogs on
recall and let himself be led to her. Unaccustomed to speaking as he was, the
shouting made his throat feel uncomfortably strained. A fear grew in his bowels
and his lower belly that something bad had happened to Tara.

He decided to
ride her property in an ever-expanding spiral, to cover every inch he could
instead of a linear search.

Blue clopped
his hooves obediently through the muck as Zane used his knees to steer. Every
minute or so, he whistled the bursts of shrieking pips through his teeth and
called for Fly only, who was better at recall than Ty, who was older and
slightly deaf.

Zane had just
started up the ridge trail in his expanding spiral when he saw a furry
black-and-white bullet leaping above the buffalo grass like an orca breaching
above a shimmering green sea. Closer and closer he came and soon Zane heard his
excited bark.

“Fly!” he
called, his heart no gladder than Fly’s as the border collie leaped right into
his arms, licked his face, whined, and beat the hell out of Zane with his
uncropped tail. Blue blew air through his lips and turned his head to greet
Fly, who gave his old friend a shy lick. Blue neighed.

“Good boy, Fly!
Good
boy!” Zane stroked him and hugged
him for a moment. “Enough of old home week. Fly, where’s Tara?
Take me to
Tara
.
Tara
!

Fly’s ears
pricked up and he leaped back down to the ground, ran circles around Blue and
began to herd him. Zane let Blue have his head and Fly whined every time Zane
said Tara’s name. It took awhile to get there. Fly
herded Blue up hills, then down the same hills, but progressing just the same.
Fly was working now and he had the blue ribbons to prove it.

For just a
short while, the rain quite and the clouds broke, lighting up the sky in a
spectacular orange sunset.

Zane found Tara
laying in a crumpled heap under a blue spruce, sheltered and huddled under her
filthy rain slicker and half covered with a mud-crusted saddle blanket. Ty
barked happily upon seeing Zane, but didn’t leave her side. She saw him
dismount and pulled a black neckerchief over the lower half of her face, bandit
style. It didn’t escape Zane that she was dressed entirely in black. Fly
bounded to Tara, licking her dirty tear-stained face and
whining with Ty, their tails revolving like fans and pummeling her.

“Ow, you dogs
are beatin’ me with your tails! Quit it!” she said weakly. His heart soared.
She was alive.

“Don’t shoot, Tara,”
Zane said as he dismounted from Blue.

“Shoot?!” Her
voice was scratchy from what must have been hours of crying and being out in
the weather, as she said softly, ““I’ve never been so glad to see an ex-husband
in my entire life.”

“You’ve only
got the one, haven’t ya?”

“Just you,
Zane.”

“Lemme have a
look-see at the damage.”

“It ain’t
pretty,” she replied.

Zane folded
black the saddle blanket and she winced as he peeled the wool fabric from where
it was stuck to her bloody, scraped, and torn skin.

The light in
his piercing hazel eyes met her glistening blue ones in concern. Zane let out a
low whistle. The knees of her black Wranglers were torn and muddy, her knees
bloody, her hands bloody, too, and wrapped in what looked like pieces of a
black bra. His eyebrows went up as he saw her left boot and sock off and her
hugely swelled purpled ankle splinted with willow branches and cut pieces of
leather reins around them.

“Well, there’s
a new way to ruin tack,” Zane remarked at last as he took in her injuries, his
eyebrows knit in concern. “What the hell happened here?”

“I went after
wild onions for making beans. Lucky slipped in the mud on the ridge trail on
our way down to the river. We took a bad spill all the way to the bottom of the
ravine, the one with all the aspen in it. He tried not to roll on me as we went
down.”

“Mercy! Where’s
Lucky?” Zane asked, his hazel eyes intent on her blue ones.

Tara
sighed heavily. “I had to shoot him, Zane. He broke both knees and screamed
something awful. I tried to kick loose during the spill but my left foot got
caught under him in the stirrup and my ligaments are torn in my ankle, I’m
pretty sure.”

“Not to
minimize
your
pain, but dear Lord.
Lucky
gone.
Hell
of a thing.”

“I know. I
haven’t cried so hard since. . . well, when our house burned down with Hugh in
it.”

Zane nodded
somberly, his lips tight against his rain-beaded, handsome face. “How’d you get
up here from the ravine?”

“Dug my foot
out from under Lucky with my bare hands and crawled up the slope on my hands
and knees, cussin’ the whole way. Ty and Fly kept me warm for two nights under
this tree.”

“You could have
died! You’re lucky you had Ty and Fly with you.”

“I know it,
Zane.” She paused. “They’ve missed you, but they wouldn’t leave my side, no
matter how many times I told ‘em to go on home to you. And after the fire,
forget it, they sleep with me now.”

“Not just
indoors but you let the dogs sleep in your bed? Well, you’ve ruined my herd
dogs.”

“Not so much
ruined them as became a member of their pack,” she replied, her voice hoarse.
“I had to hold Ty here with me, while Fly tore out of here to something I
couldn’t see or hear, but I figured it must have been you. I actually laid here
crying like a little girl, hoping that somehow you would know to come for me.”

His chest
tightened up at her words. “I will always come for you, Tara, but I want to see
your face when I’m talking to you. Take that black kerchief off your face right
now.”

“No, sir.
That
I will not do.” She gave a
shuddering sigh, the pain of the past two years coming through to him in that
one trembling exhalation.

He bent down
and held out his arms. “Let’s get you up on Blue.” Tenderly, he said, “Come on,
Tara-girl. Ain’t gonna hurt you. You know that.”

As he picked
her up, she threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his dark, wet
hair, knocking off his Stetson breaking into wrenching sobs that reverberated
through his body with a terrifying power.

“God bless,
darlin’, but you’re wrecked. Stop crying. You’re safe now. I gotcha.”

That only made
her cry harder against him, not letting go even when she was in the saddle and
her good foot instinctively found its way into a stirrup. She bent over him,
holding on.

“Zane!” Her
tears splashed hot on his neck and ran down into his shirt and as they did,
something fierce and terrible rose in him. He realized what it was:
It was their baggage
.

BOOK: Taking Back Tara (Ranch Lovers Romance)
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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