Week 5, Wednesday noonish – Chad’s ranch in East Texas
Grace paused as she cinched the saddle on Inferno. This was probably a bad idea. She had heard all those horror stories. She wasn’t stupid. But she was tired of having her whole fucking life controlled by the adults. Especially her mother, and especially now.
So, she finished buckling the saddle and climbed on to her friend’s back. Inferno was her ace in the hole, so to speak. She knew how fast he could go, especially across the wooded areas where a car could not travel. He would easily outpace anyone on foot.
No, she had thought this out. Besides, she had all those self-defense moves that Chad had taught her. She had even remembered to put her small pocket knife in her boot, just in case. She had this. She would be fine. And if anything did happen, Inferno would run straight back to the barn and alert Chad that something was wrong.
It was almost lunchtime. Grace had done her morning studies and chores. Taking Inferno for a quick run before lunch was the perfect excuse. It also meant she had a pretext for leaving quickly if she got any weird vibes off the kid.
There weren’t many details on Diablo91’s profile, but that did not mean anything. She did not make hers public either. It was just asking for trouble to put that stuff out there for anyone to see. All she knew was that he was from Mexico but happened to be passing through Texas to visit some college. That probably meant he was quite a bit older than she was.
But this wasn’t that kind of thing. She was not all that interested in boys. She had seen first hand the mess that relationships could cause for women, especially if you got into them too young like her mother had.
What her Mom had ever seen in Gerald McBride was beyond her? Oh, sure, there was the money thing. But Cassie had never seemed to care that much about it. She hadn’t even been that worried when she found out they would lose the house and all the stuff that went with it. Well, other than her horse Romeo, and making sure that they would have somewhere to go and not just be tossed out on the street. She could get that.
What she had never figured out was where Chad came into this whole thing. Neither of them would give her much of an answer when she asked those questions. And her mother had seemed as genuinely shocked as she was the day that Gerald had dumped them on the man.
But that had not stopped Chad and her mother from picking up where they left off, it seemed. No, she had loads of questions, and they were not offering any explanations. Especially the most important one of all, was Chad her birth father?
She could see the posh black SUV pulled off to the side of the road just up ahead. It was pretty nice, not all that different than the rental one they had driven that day. Diablo’s family must have loads of money, but that was not as comforting as it once might have been. All the kids at her school proved that being wealthy did not make you a nice person. Sometimes it seemed the opposite, in fact.
She halted Inferno just out of sight. “So, what do you think, boy?”
It was more than just the way that the horse pawed at the pine needles and packed red earth beneath his hooves. She had always been able to sense what animals felt. It was weird, and she had no idea why or how. But for as long as she could remember, she had just known when they were sick or scared or anxious.
And Inferno was making his unease perfectly clear. Grace considered giving him free rein, allowing him to do as he wished and head back to the barn. She was on the verge of doing just that when the passenger door opened. Something was definitely wrong.
Will? What was he doing here? Was something up with the case? What did it even matter any more, now that Gerald was dead? Maybe that was it? Perhaps he had come to tell them that it was alright now? But how did he know where to find them? And why wouldn’t he have sought out her mother? Besides, why the subterfuge with the whole Diable91 thing?
But there was only one way to get answers to any of those questions. That was to reveal herself to the man. She might think twice about that with anyone else. But this was Will. He was the only one that had ever been kind to her. Heck, he had almost treated her like an adult. Taken the time to speak with her, listen to her struggles, and even share a bit about his own life.
Okay, so the fact that the dude was smoking hot had absolutely nothing to do with it. Sure, she had always figured in another decade or so, when she had finished college, and knew what she wanted to do with her life, when she was ready to start dating and interested in guys. Well, Will was the kind of guy that she hoped to find.
Who knows if he still hadn’t met anyone? Okay, so he would be old by then. And twenty years? Heck, that was almost as big an age difference as her Mom and Gerald. Was that part of the problem for them? It all came back to that. All those questions and no answers. The lies just kept mounting up. And now, she had added a few more of her own.
“Will, what are you doing here? Are you Diablo91?”
But before her friend could answer, another man got out of the driver’s side door. And though he was almost certainly of Mexican descent, he was no older boy. She felt Inferno stiffen beneath her thighs. She allowed him to half turn back towards the house.
“Please, Cally, just give me a couple of minutes to explain.”
It was Will that spoke. The other guy had come around and leaned against the side of the car. Grace was pretty sure that the bulge beneath his coat was a weapon. Maybe he was another agent? But that would not explain the unease that she felt in the bit of her stomach or from Inferno. Heck, even Will seemed tense.
But she knew he had risked so much to help her family. Sure, she was pretty confident that Gerald had paid those agents off. It was just that Will had not seemed the type to sell out like that. Maybe he needed the money to pay for his grandmother’s funeral? Or a private investigator to look for his cousin? If she went back to the house now, she might never know. Maybe for once, an adult would respect her enough to answer her questions?
“Two minutes, Will.”