The Rancher

The Rancher by Sarah M. Anderson

Mary Beth is the kind of woman who wishes she had a five-second delay on her mouth. The swath of verbal destruction she leaves is why she goes west to start over. But any resolve to hold her tongue is lost immediately when she meets Jacob, a Lakota cowboy who says next to nothing – especially about the black leather mask that covers half his face. Jacob’s silence is his armor in a white man’s world, but even that isn’t enough to protect him – or the mute girl he guards – from forces he can’t control. Fascinated by the masked cowboy and drawn to defend the girl, Mary Beth finds herself in the middle of a decades-old power struggle that only she could talk her way out of.

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Men of the White Sandy #2
NOTE: The Rancher was originally published as Masked Cowboy.
ISBN: 978-1-941097-33-5




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Praise

  • “4 1/2 stars TOP PICK! Ms. Anderson writes with an entertaining and intelligent style… I thoroughly enjoyed this smart, complex and fascinating story.”–Night Owl Reviews
  • “4 stars–The second Men of the White Sandy series combines a sizzling romance with a genuinely intriguing tale of a small town’s secrets, histories and sins. Her scarred hero’s story is absorbing, but Anderson wisely examines her heroine’s past with similar care, making this a story of two fully realized characters who challenge and fulfill each other. The mystery adds a spark to the plot, driving the action and ratcheting up the tension to create a novel that fans and new readers alike will enjoy.”–RT Book Reviews
  • “4 1/2 stars TOP PICK: This is a sexy, slightly angsty tale between an emotionally and physically scarred man and a ball buster heroine. It made me laugh, made me swoon and made me mad; any book that elicits all those emotions has got to be a reread.”–Scorching Reviews
  • “4 stars/Grade B. I recently read my first Sarah Anderson book (from a different series) and really liked her voice. When I found out this hero was scarred and a bit tortured, I had to try it. I’m happy to say, I enjoyed this one.”–SmexyBooks
  • “4 1/2 stars. What can I say about Jacob Plenty Holes? He is just fascinating…The ending was extremely dramatic and the aftermath really sweet. It got me all emotional.”–A Pleasant Journey
  • “4.5 Stars! The story catches you from the start as Ms. Anderson weaves a tale of mystery and Indian lore that surrounds the reservation. I am excited to see where this story is going; I love the White Sandy area and those that live there.”–Ramblings From a Chaotic Mind
  • “4 Stars! This is a couple who don’t have an easy path to love but it is a love you know will last as it is built on mutual respect and need plus a good dose of friendship… I really enjoyed it.  I’m ready for more in the series especially…  Nobody!!!”–Book-a-Holic Anon
  • “4 Stars! Masked Cowboy is a perfect addition to the series. I love Sarah M. Anderson’s style and the unique characters she creates.”–Swept Away by Romance 
  • “4 Stars! MASKED COWBOY is one exceptional book!  I was so impressed with Sarah M. Anderson’s writing talent.  How she crafted such a deeply emotional, high impact story is very impressive.  Jacob and Mary Beth are characters you quickly fall in love with, the secondary characters of Kip and Robin make this book outstanding reading experience.”–Mystic Reviews
  • “4 Stars! Once again, Sarah M. Anderson delivers a lovely contemporary, one that is both sweet and sexy, fun and a little bit mysterious. With Masked Cowboy she gives a twist on the usual “cowboy” story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!”–The Book Queen
  • “MASKED COWBOY is one exceptional book!  I was so impressed with Sarah M. Anderson’s writing talent. How she crafted such a deeply emotional, high impact story is very impressive. Jacob and Mary Beth are characters you quickly fall in love with, the secondary characters of Kip and Robin make this book an outstanding reading experience.”–Romance Junkies

Chapter One

Jacob unsnapped his mask and sat it on the shelf next to his bed. His face felt different without it—foreign. Wrong. He breathed deeply, trying to enjoy air that hadn’t passed over leather, but it didn’t work. Never did. He couldn’t sleep in the mask, but taking it off made him anxious. He didn’t like being anxious.

He hadn’t looked at his reflection in three years. Had no interest in knowing what he looked like now. Had gotten rid of every mirror in the ancient trailer where he’d lived his whole life. Kept the blinds drawn so he wouldn’t accidentally see his reflection. He didn’t want to know and, what’s more, he didn’t need to know. That was that.

Except when the darkness closed around him at night. Then, with nothing but the sound of Kip’s gentle breathing to remind him he wasn’t the only living thing left in this world, Jacob wondered what he looked like now.

He hadn’t given in to that temptation. Not once. Tonight would be no different.

Although he knew the scars had healed, he still wore the mask. Logically, he knew his face wasn’t about to fall off, but the mask was a constant, physical reassurance holding him together. Plus, he didn’t have to look at himself. No one did. The mask hid what he really was from the world.

That was the way it had to be.

On the other side of the trailer, Kip sighed in her sleep. Jacob closed his good eye and let his ears do the looking for him. He searched for sounds that weren’t supposed to be there—the snap of a twig outside, the rattle of the door lock being tested. But the only sound he heard was Kip breathing. It was the only noise she made.

It’d been this way for so long—Kip being quiet, Jacob wearing a mask—that sometimes he doubted that his memories of life before were anything more than wishful thinking.

What the hell was he going to do about Kip? This was another part of his nightly ritual. It’d been three years. Three long years of trying to be a father to someone else’s little girl, of trying to hide her from whatever had killed her parents. Three years of wearing a mask.

How much longer was this going to go on? How much longer could he keep her safely hidden? How much longer before the thing—man or beast, he sure as hell didn’t know—came after her again?

He hadn’t seen much of it before it attacked him with that knife. Just that it was tall—too tall to be a man—and covered in brown fur.

He tried not to think about the thing. He didn’t want it wandering around his dreams, like it often did. If it were a good night, he’d be all alone in his dreams.

But even those blank nights left him asking the same questions when he woke up.

How much longer would he wear the mask? Hide the girl? Be alone? He knew the answer, of course. There wasn’t any doubt about it.

For as long as it took. That was that.

“Hey, going somewhere?”

Mary Beth Hofstetter froze, the keys to the brand-spanking new Dodge Ram that had been her graduation present to herself in her hand. She’d hoped to slip out without waking up Greg. Too late for that. “Actually, yeah. Next week.”

“Next week what?”

She put on her best dazzling smile. Greg’s eyes went gooey at the sight. “Next week I’m going somewhere.”

“You are?”

Mary Beth winced. He hadn’t picked up any of her hints in the last few weeks. Poor guy. He had no idea what was coming. “Yup.” She tried out the dazzling smile again.

It didn’t work this time. “Where? For how long?”

“Here’s the thing, Greg,” she patiently said as she sat down on the edge of the bed. “I passed the Veterinarian Board Exam for South Dakota and I took a job on the White Sandy reservation out there. I leave in a week.”

For a moment, he sat there in stunned silence. Finally, he got out, “You did what?”

“I’m leaving,” she explained. “I’ve got a job.”

“But—” he sputtered, jumping out of bed.

Oh, this was about to go south, fast. Mary Beth braced for the worst.

“I thought we’d—I want to marry you!”

“Greg, please.” She took a deep breath, focusing on keeping this short. “Be realistic.”

“But I love you!”

“That’s sweet, Greg, but let’s be honest. This wasn’t love. This was convenient.” Mary Beth winced at how harsh that came out. Her mouth always operated independently of her brain, and it was clear that today was no different.

Greg’s jaw hung low in shock as he made little gurgling noises.

This is exactly why I prefer animals, Mary Beth thought. Clean and simple. “I’m going to take over a large animal practice out West,” she continued, trying to scuttle around him to get to the door. “It’s at the foot of the Badlands. It’s going to be great. A new start.”

“You’re going? Just like that? How can you do that to me?”

For a second, Mary Beth felt like rotten eggs on a summer day. It’s not that Greg was a bad person or anything. But he was as exciting as vanilla pudding. Safe, reliable, and above all, dull. He’d make some mousy woman a wonderful husband some day.

Greg was not what she needed, and the sooner he woke up to that fact, the better off he’d be. “I told you months ago that I didn’t want a long-term relationship. Don’t you remember?”

“Yeah, but—”

She skirted him and made it to the door. “Good luck, Greg. Good luck and goodbye.”

“But—” he shouted after her as she shut the door and walked away.

She walked away without another look back, just like she had from Kenny, Rob, Dean, Arnie and Cliff. Kenny had cried, Rob had called her names, Dean and Arnie had pleaded for her to stay. Cliff was the only one who took it like a man. Cliff was the only one she could have loved, which is why she walked after only a month and a half.

“Yeah,” he had mused as she bolted for the door. “I never figured you’d stay.”

And he was right. Staying would mean falling, and Mary Beth wasn’t about to give a man—any man—that kind of power. She’d seen what falling in love could do to a woman—what it’d done to her mother—and there was no way she was going to wind up like her mom, beaten up and beaten down. Not Mary Beth. She was always in charge, always in control, always ready to walk.

Before she fell, Mary Beth would walk.

Every single time.

Mary Beth settled into the last free table at the sidewalk café at Ronny’s in Faith Ridge. In fact, as far as she could tell, it was the only restaurant within an hour’s drive. The rural Illinois town she’d grown up in had been tiny, but Faith Ridge, South Dakota, was practically microscopic—and in the middle of nowhere to boot. Rapid City was almost two hours west. The state capital, Pierre, was an hour and a half north. The drive to get here had been nothing but acres of grass for miles and miles. She was tired, hungry and her butt was numb.

Hell, at the rate she was going, she was lucky Faith Ridge had a restaurant at all.

As she waited for the server, she noticed that not only was every other table filled, they were filled with women—white women, Indian women and even one black woman, but none younger than she was.

What the hell?

The waitress, long black hair hanging down her back with bangs curled high on her forehead and glitter on her eyelids, bopped up to the table. “Hi, I’m Robin,” she said, the faint trace of accent clipping the ends of her words, “and I’ll be your server. What can I get you?”

“Robin. Nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Mary Beth Hofstetter.”

“Oh, the new vet. We’re so glad to have you here.”

Mary Beth smiled. “I see my reputation precedes me.”

Robin shot her a funny look, and Mary Beth wished she hadn’t broken out the five-dollar words quite so early in the introductions. But Robin’s confusion didn’t stop her for long. “Well, Doc Coleman’s been talking about retiring for so long, we were all just amazed when he finally announced that he’d hired a replacement.” Robin took a step back, looking Mary Beth up and down. “You’re a vet?”

“I grew up on a farm. I can handle everything from cattle to kittens.”

Much to her surprise, Robin sat in the other chair, a delighted grin catching almost as much light as the glitter over her eyes. “Doc Coleman saved my cat, Patch. We’ll sure miss him, but…” The way she said it made it pretty clear she wouldn’t miss him that much.

“But…”

Robin leaned in, looking gleeful. “You are looking at the sum total of women in town. There aren’t a whole lot of girls my age around here.”

Smirking at the thought that she was about the same age as this bright young thing with cheekbones she’d kill for, Mary Beth took another glance around. “Robin, why am I looking at the sum total of women in Faith Ridge?”

She smirked as she stood up. “The show’s going to start in a few minutes. You’ll want to stick around for it.”

“The show?”

“You’ll see, just wait. Now, what can I get you?”

Mary Beth ordered the roast-beef sandwich, as opposed to the roast-beef platter, the beef hamburger or the myriad of steak cuts. As Robin headed back to the kitchen, Mary Beth grinned.

Deep in the heart of beef country and she’d already made a friend.

The minutes passed as Mary Beth listened to the feminine buzz surrounding her. For being in the middle of the sum total of the female population of Faith Ridge—maybe fifteen strong—the women were relaxed, chatting and eating as if this were any other night. There were occasional masculine shouts from the interior of the café, where a large group of cowboys were doing their best to coach a ballgame taking place in Denver.

Just like junior high, Mary Beth mused. Girls on one side, boys on the other.

Robin brought her sandwich, carefully balancing a towel and two huge glasses of water on the tray. She set the plate and one glass down. Underneath the tray, she had a to-go bag tied up.

“I didn’t order the extra water,” Mary Beth began, but the buzz died around her. It was like the whole restaurant was holding its collective breath.

“Water isn’t for you,” Robin replied, her jet-black eyes focused up the road. “Show’s starting,” she added, sounding breathless.

Mary Beth followed her gaze, blinking through the streaking evening sun.

Down the center of the street, a cowboy was riding a horse, leading another behind him. As he got closer, Mary Beth could see the cowboy was shirtless. The golden light settled over his dark hat and shimmered off his bare shoulders. His front was still in light shadows, but if the rest of him was as carved as those dark brown shoulders, things were about to get interesting.

“Mmm,” Robin hummed and Mary Beth swore the whole restaurant was humming in pleasure with her.

As the lone rider got closer, the shadows eased back a bit, and Mary Beth realized that there was something different about this cowboy.

He had an eye patch.

Whoa, hunk on the hoof, just like in a romance novel. But as she blinked through the angular sunlight, Mary Beth realized that the patch was far larger than the kind a pirate would wear. The swath of dark leather started at his left temple, covered his left eye and continued down over the center of his face, coming to a sharp point over his nose.

Mary Beth shook her head, but the patch remained the same. “He wears a mask?” she whispered to Robin, afraid to break the spell that gripped the café.

“Shhh,” Robin hissed.

The masked cowboy rode right up to the café and stopped mere feet from Mary Beth’s table before he slid out of the saddle, his leg muscles twitching through his tight jeans the whole way down. He paused for split second, clearly enjoying every female eye trained on his bare torso before he walked right up to Mary Beth’s table.

“Robin,” he said, gently tipping his black felt hat, its brim creased from countless such tips. His one eye, nestled between a strong eyebrow and a stronger cheekbone, swept over the scene before it settled on Mary Beth.

“Jacob,” Robin practically sang. She held out the tray with the towel and the water.

Jacob, the masked, shirtless cowboy, gracefully lifted the glass of water from the tray before he set his hat in its place. He took a huge drink, then grabbed the towel, leaned forward and poured the rest of the water over his head.

The water rushed through his slightly overgrown jet-black hair as he stood up, his mask covered with the towel. Rivulets raced down his browned, chiseled chest before he slowly mopped them up, his gaze grabbing Mary Beth’s face and refusing to let it go again.

She was sure her mouth was on the table, but she couldn’t help it. Every fiber in her body was vibrating as she watched the towel trace passed his pecs, down his lean abs—the muscles moving just beneath the smooth surface of his skin—and follow a faint trail of hair that ended in his jeans. The mask notwithstanding, this man was quite possibly the most ideal specimen of masculinity she’d ever laid eyes on. Nothing like pasty Greg Meyers.

A hint of a smile on his face, Jacob handed the towel back to Robin, took the to-go bag, pivoted and walked to the saddlebag of his paint. Mary Beth admiringly noted the huge tear in the seat of his pants, just under his left butt cheek. It was hard to tell what was more promising—his rock-solid chest or that flash of ass. Pausing again for just a second, he tucked the meal in the bag after he whipped out an Anthrax T-shirt that might have been black back in the 80s.

As he began to unbuckle his jeans, Mary Beth heard the entire café suck in a hot breath.

He won’t. Mary Beth’s brain stuttered in shock. He wouldn’t!

The top button gave under his nimble fingers, and then the second. Mary Beth couldn’t help but stare at the treasure trail of dark fur that crested at an even darker line peaking just over the undone buttons.

Jesus Christ, is he even wearing underwear? She gasped, unable to look away as she squirmed in her chair.

Jacob slipped the tee over his head, tucked it in and buttoned back up. As he took his hat off Robin’s tray, the whole café—the sum total of women in Faith Ridge—sighed and leaned back in their chairs. Mary Beth wondered if there were enough cigarettes in town for the collective orgasm that had just happened in broad daylight.

“So, you must be the new vet,” his voice rumbled out of his superb chest, his accent identical to Robin’s.

“What?” Mary Beth gaped, the wheels of her brain spinning. “Oh, yes. Yes, I’m the new vet.”

Jacob crossed his arms and stared at Robin, who was euphorically beaming at Jacob. “Jacob, this is Dr. Mary Beth Hofstetter. Dr. Hofstetter—”

“Mary Beth,” she corrected, finding her brain now that his fabulous body was mostly covered. She couldn’t help but think of that hole over his butt—if he wasn’t wearing underwear—

“Yeah. Mary Beth, this is Jacob Plenty Holes.”

Jacob’s black eye traveled up and down her body with an emotion that was stuck somewhere between angry and interested. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Hofstetter.” His voice was so cool as to be cold. “We’ll be working together.”

“W-we will?” she stuttered, trying to keep her mouth from going, Plenty Holes? The man in a mask—who may or may not have a freaking nose—is named Plenty Holes? She barely managed to keep the brakes slammed on and almost bit her tongue.

“Jacob manages the McGillis ranch,” Robin explained, the name McGillis coming out pained.

After a quick glance at the plain white building across the street, Jacob turned his eye back to the waitress. “He been by today?”

She started to shake her head no, but then her eyes went wide in fear.

Jacob didn’t even move his head as he addressed Mary Beth. “Go,” he ordered.

Without another word, Robin spun on her heels and was gone.

“Wait, what?” Mary Beth said, but the question died on her lips as Jacob cocked an ear. Mary Beth saw a tall white man heading straight for the restaurant. Jacob’s hand stealthily dropped down to the knife that hung at his side. She had no idea what was happening. This Jacob Plenty Holes had gone from erotically enticing to confusing to ice cold in less than three minutes.

“Hey, Plenty Holes!” the man said with just enough oil in his voice to make her think of a snake wearing boots. Mary Beth could feel the whole café recoil in disgust. “You here to get that albino again?”

“Evening, McGillis,” Jacob said, not moving.

Mary Beth looked at McGillis. This had to be the ranch owner. He towered over Jacob, making Mary Beth feel little bigger than a bug as she sat at the table, her forgotten roast beef getting cold. His sandy-brown hair was cut close to his head, and he had an odd smell that tinged the air around him with something close to patchouli. Standing next to Jacob in his torn jeans and faded concert tee, McGillis’ clothing screamed dominance. His tan boots were ostrich, his black pants were perfectly creased and around the neck of his crisp blue shirt sat a bolo tie that had an honest-to-goodness diamond in the center of a black-onyx medallion.

He was a good-looking man, although probably in his fifties. But there was something in his eyes that reminded Mary Beth of Brian Greevy and the way he would smile at her when she threw herself in between him and her mom. Everyone thought Brian was such a great guy. Even her mom had been convinced Brian was a winner, if only Mom could have done what he wanted, when he wanted it. Only Mary Beth had seen him for what he was—a coward hiding behind a bully’s fists. Skeevy Greevy, she’d called him.

Buck McGillis and Skeevy Greevy didn’t look anything alike, but their eyes told her everything she needed to know. She’d refused to be afraid of Greevy. She wasn’t about to be afraid of Buck McGillis.

So she swallowed down her dread and met his gaze straight on. He owned the major ranch near town. Mary Beth knew that she’d have to work with—work for—this tyrant of a man. Man, she wished she’d brought her knife to dinner.

“Well, now, what’s this?” McGillis drawled, jerking his waistband up and down like he was screwing his zipper. She’d seen lots of farmers and cattlemen hitch up their pants, but his agonizingly slow pace was just plain wrong.

Then he bent over to get a good look at what passed as her cleavage in her V-neck T-shirt. “Haven’t seen a pretty little thing like you here before.” He jerked his head towards Jacob. “Enjoy the show? I got a better one. You’ll have to see it some time,” he said as he gave the pants one final tug.

Jacob’s mouth opened, but Mary Beth beat him to the punch. “That’s Dr. Pretty Little Thing to you, Mr. McGillis,” she bristled, casually resting her hand on the steak knife on the table. It was no Bowie knife, but it’d do. “And I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t sleep with clients. I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on everyone’s show.”

As McGillis’s smile hardened, Mary Beth caught Jacob cocking his eyebrow, looking almost amused. But the look quickly vanished into impassable stone as McGillis sat down at the table.

“Doctor? You’re the new vet?” He looked her up and down before his face began to warm into something that might have been seductive if it hadn’t been so mercenary. “Have dinner with me tomorrow night. Take you out for a ride around the ranch. You’ll like it, better than that,” he said with jerk back towards a stone-faced Jacob.

The I-don’t-sleep-with-clients thing went whistling right passed him. Okay, she thought as she leaned forward on her hands, batting her eyes, draw the line early. “Oh, Mr. McGillis,” she cooed.

“My friends call me Buck,” he replied, his eyes trained on her cleavage.

“Buck? Why that’s an interesting name,” she giggled as she broke out the dazzling smile. A quick glance to the left revealed the shocked look covering Jacob’s face. He was properly befuddled. She giggled again.

McGillis’s eyes fluttered as he tried to hitch his zipper up again. Yes, proper befuddlement had occurred all the way around. “You like it?” he preened. “I picked it out myself.”

“Well, I’m not sure it really fits you,” she drawled, tracing a finger on the tablecloth. She caught Jacob’s mouth flop open before a look of rage wiped out the shock.

“No?” McGillis replied, his honeyed voice making him sound pleased with himself.

“No,” she cooed again before going for the jugular. “I think you overvalued yourself by at least fifty cents.”

McGillis stood up so fast that his chair flew into the street. “Why you little—”

“Dr. Hofstetter!” Robin screeched, carrying a huge chocolate confection that had an honest-to-God sparkler flaming out of the top. “Here’s that chocolate bomb you ordered.”

She’d done no such thing. But Robin’s actions made it blisteringly clear that the whole restaurant had been listening in. McGillis looked from Mary Beth to Jacob before he leaned in close to Mary Beth. She caught the movement of Jacob grabbing his knife as she did the same.

“No one says no to Buck McGillis,” he snarled.

“Bill Coleman hired me. I don’t sleep with clients. I castrate calves. If you’ve got a problem with that,” she snarled back, slamming the butt of the knife back onto the table, “you just feel free to find another vet. It’s your call.”

McGillis smiled, a joyless thing that didn’t fit on his face. He stood up straight, brushed invisible lint off his shirt and slowly looked her up and down again. “Another time then.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Mr. McGillis,” she replied, looking as mean as she could despite the cold chills he sent racing down her spine. She wasn’t afraid of him, she reminded herself. She wasn’t afraid of anyone, but especially not the jerks of the world.

The big man gave her a joyless grin before he turned and casually strolled back towards a spotless black Jeep as if they’d just been shooting the breeze instead of threatening each other. The vehicle’s windows were tinted, but as the Jeep rolled passed the restaurant, Mary Beth could feel Buck’s eyes on her—even if she couldn’t see them.

As he drove passed, Jacob’s two horses shifted nervously from where they’d been drop-tethered, and Jacob patted their necks as he stared at her. “You don’t want to make an enemy of Buck McGillis, Dr. Hofstetter.”

“I don’t want to be treated like a play toy, Mr. Plenty Holes.” The horses calmed at his touch, and God help her, all she could think about was the show. “You’re not suggesting I give in just to make nice?”

“No. Just steer clear.” He caught her gaze and held it. His eye was so black it was almost blue, and Mary Beth felt like if she wasn’t careful, he’d pull her in with just one eye. “Just be careful.”

“Jacob?” a woman’s voice—older, clear and authoritative—called out from across the street. “We’re ready.”

Mary Beth watched as he crossed the street. Robin had misspoken. One woman in Faith Ridge hadn’t been watching the show.

“Who’s that?” she asked the shaken waitress.

“Mrs. Browne, the school teacher.” Robin collapsed in the chair she’d just set back at the table.

Mrs. Browne looked every inch the old West schoolmarm, her gray hair pulled back into a tight bun, reading glasses perched on the edge of her nose. She was holding the hand of a small child nearly lost behind the folds of her voluminous skirt.

Mary Beth leaned to the right, trying to get a better look at the child who seemed to be—

White.

Milk-white skin, shock-white hair.

McGillis’s barb came back to her. You here to get that albino again?

Mary Beth rubbed her temples. In the course of less than fifteen minutes, she’d nearly orgasmed watching a one-eyed, masked cowboy put on a strip-show shower in the middle of a street, managed to piss off her biggest client who just happened to be the town bully, and now she watched as the masked cowboy took the hand of an albino child, long white hair practically glowing in the early dusk. Mary Beth could see the purple-tinged eyes never move from the ground as Jacob led him? Her? Mary Beth couldn’t tell, but then Jacob was boosting the child onto the bare back of the second horse.

In one fluid movement, Jacob sprang up onto his horse’s back as if the five feet were nothing.

“Robin, Dr. Hofstetter.” He touched his fingers to his hat. “Ladies,” he replied to the remaining gawkers at the café.

And the masked cowboy rode off into the sunset, leading a horse carrying an albino child behind him.

The moment he was out of sight, the café began to buzz again, and Mary Beth’s mouth kicked into overdrive. “What the hell?” she asked Robin. “Does he have a nose or not? And was that albino kid a boy or a girl? And do I need to start packing a weapon?”

Robin sighed as she got up to clear a table. “Where are you staying?”

“Dr. Coleman set me up in a little house up on Beech—”

“Oh, yeah, Junior Malley’s old place,” she said as if that would mean anything to Mary Beth. “Ronny and I live two houses down.”

“Well, after you get off work tonight, you can come over and tell me what the Sam Hill just happened here.”

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