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It was a beautiful day, Kelsey Blaine thought, considering the world had just turned upside down on her. It should be snowing, unlikely as that was in the Texas Hill Country, because she felt like she was in a snow globe, getting shaken by hands she had no control over.
“I’m sorry, Kelsey. I hate to see the land go, but it’s just the way things are. I couldn’t afford to turn down an offer like that. It’s going to solve all my major money problems, and let me hire some help around the house.”
She gave herself an inward shake. Her problems were minor, compared to Jim Roper’s. The crusty old man was fighting to save his home. She shouldn’t begrudge him this windfall just because it happened to impact her. He’d already been more than generous, for a long time.
She’d land on her feet, somehow. Besides, it wasn’t herself she was really worried about. It was the horses. “I understand, Jim. Really.”
“I still can’t believe anyone was willing to pay that much for only twenty-five acres,” Jim said.
“It is. . . unexpected,” she said. Then, with sudden concern for the kind man, she asked, “You’re sure it’s legit?”
Jim smiled. “Oh, I had my doubts. Thought somebody was trying to scam an old man. But Megan Clark handled it, and you know no one puts anything over on her. She said the money—in cash, if you can believe it—was already in an escrow account before the offer was even made.”
The local real estate agent was indeed a sharp, smart woman, and Kelsey felt better. She took a gulp of the coffee that had become just cool enough to swallow quickly. She needed the jolt. Not that the news the land she and the Whiskey River Rescue horses been living on had just been sold out from under them wasn’t enough jolt for this Monday morning.
“I should have told you sooner, but—”
“You were ill,” she said, waving off the apology. She knew trying to keep up the family place was wearing on the older man more and more, and he’d just spent two weeks in the hospital, only getting out yesterday. Pressure from her was the last thing he needed, so she changed the subject. “So, who is this person who apparently has money to spare?”
“Well, now,” Jim said, taking a sip of his own dark brew, “that’s the funny part. Don’t know.”
Kelsey blinked. “What?”
“It’s all being handled by some lawyer out of Dallas, for something called the Shipley Trust.”
“Megan says it’s all under a demand of confidentiality,” Jim said. “Otherwise the deal’s off.”
“Maybe just private.” Jim grinned at her. “Some folks don’t believe in plastering their lives all over the interwebs, y’know.”
Kelsey laughed. Jim might be older, but he was one of the most tech savvy people she knew. If he’d been charging the locals for all the tech repair work and consulting advice he’d given over the years, he could be buying more land, not selling it.
“I really am sorry, Kelsey. I know this was a shock, but you’ll be fine, it’ll end up being better, I’m sure—”
She stopped him, laying her hand comfortingly over his. “Thank you, but don’t say another word. And don’t you worry. You’ve got enough to deal with. I’ll be—”
She heard the door of the coffee shop open, and interrupted her reassurances to Jim when she saw his fishing buddies, men she knew only as the two Georges, approaching. She patted his hand once more and, after some teasing from them about Jim’s secret lunch with a pretty girl, left them to discussing the one that got away, or whatever it was they talked about.
As she left, she wished she felt as confident as she’d sounded. She’d wanted to reassure Jim, and she had—but in truth she had no idea what she was going to do. Finding enough space for the six horses she currently had for anything close to the pittance Jim had charged them for three of those twenty-five acres, let alone with a place for her to live, was going to be next to, if not on the other side of, impossible.
She thought of Cocoa, the sweet-natured little chocolate palomino who had been barely able to move when Kelsey had pulled her out of that collapsed barn, and who had been written off as a loss by an owner ready to send her to slaughter. And Mac, the sleek bay quarter horse who had been headed the same direction, despite his one-time potential as a show horse, when he’d gone blind. Then her beautiful Granite, who’d had the misfortune to be bought by a couple from some big Eastern city, who knew nothing of horses and had merely wanted essentially a lawn ornament to complete the picture they had in their minds of what a “gentleman’s ranchette” looked like.
And the others, all variations on a theme, animals who had been abandoned or neglected or even abused by the humans who were responsible for them. It moved her as nothing else did, and had brought her to this pass.
She walked down the street, trying to think of what to do. She paused in front of the book store, as if the answer could be found in some tome of wisdom displayed in the window. But the only thing there was a large arrangement, complete with character cutouts and artwork from local young fans, of the latest Sam Smith mega-best seller. Nothing that would be of any help to her, although loosing herself in a good book, even a children’s book, sounded immensely appealing right now. Maybe especially a children’s book.
“Kelsey! What are you going to do?”
Kelsey turned to see Teri Crane, who worked in the office at the church on the corner, watching her anxiously. News had obviously travelled fast, but then it always did in Whiskey River. “Not sure yet.”
“But how can he do that, sell the land right out from under you?”
“It’s getting harder for him to keep up with that big house, plus he was sick and got behind. He needed the money and doesn’t have much choice.”
“But it’s still awful.”
Kelsey shook her head. “He’s let us stay on that piece of land for next to nothing for three years now. It’s not his fault if he can’t afford it anymore.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” the petite blonde said, sounding chastened.
That was the good thing about Teri. She leapt to the defense of her friends, but she saw reason, too. Sometimes it had to be pointed it out to her, but if it was there, she eventually saw it.
Kelsey walked to Dr. Barrett’s office. Since he was a big animal vet his work was done in the field, but he had this small office in town for paperwork and for people to pick up necessities and prescriptions, which was what she was here for.
When she walked into the reception area, the tall brunette behind the counter waved at Kelsey as she continued to speak into the phone she held. Multitasking was a skill Edie Mays had mastered. Kelsey had seen her check in one patient while inputting the billing data for another, while printing and stapling receipts for yet another checking out, all the while maintaining a coherent conversation with someone else on the phone.
“If you could bottle that, I’d buy it by the gallon,” she’d once told her.
“Why I make the really big bucks,” Edie had said with a laugh.
Kelsey had laughed, too. Big bucks weren’t why she—and most others, she thought—lived in Whiskey River. It was the people and the quality of life here. And the history, if you were into that.
“Guess this puts your youth camp on hold,” Edie said now, confirming that the news had reached her as well.
“So much for big plans.” Kelsey said it lightly, but that one hurt.
She’d been so fired up about starting her horse camp this summer, bringing together horses and kids who had seen the worst side of human nature, but she couldn’t very well do that when her horses were about to become homeless. And thinking about that side of human nature always sparked her temper. This was Texas, for God’s sake. They should have more respect for the animal that was so much a part of its history. As much as for the longhorn that was represented everywhere, at least.
She almost laughed at her own snit, and was over it by the time Edie finished her phone call.
The woman reached beneath the counter and handed her a white paper bag that was surprisingly heavy; the tube of salve for Mac’s fetlock gash must be a big one.
“Oh, the lady from the county shelter was in earlier,” Edie said. “They’ll probably be calling you for some photos on some new arrivals. Puppies.”
Kelsey let out a breath. Taking funny or appealing photos of shelter pets, which had proven countless times to be the key to quick adoptions, was another of her passions, although at the moment it wasn’t at the top of her list. She’d have to explain when they called that she had a big problem to solve first. Although puppies weren’t a hard sell, when photographed right. She’d find the time, somehow. After all, it was that work that had led her to founding the Whiskey River Rescue, when she’d realized there were far fewer rescues who could handle horses.
“So, did you find out who’s buying the property out from under you?” Edie asked.
“No,” Kelsey said. “It’s all hush-hush. Some trust or something.”
“You should find out who’s behind it. Maybe they’ll let you stay.”
“Why would someone buy it unless they had plans for it?”
“I guess,” Edie said. “But you could ask. You don’t ask, you don’t get, my grandma used to say.”
Kelsey laughed, asked Edie to give her thanks to Dr. Barrett, who more often than not donated his care and medicine, and headed off to the feed store to do her monthly song and dance. She hated it, hated having to coax, cajole, even beg help from those who could provide what the horses needed. It was against her self-sufficient nature, but for the horses who counted on her, she would do things she would normally never do.
She’d just convinced Sack’s Supply to throw in two extra bags of sweet feed—the stuff did have a shelf-life, after all, and those bags were getting close—when her cell phone rang. She’d been able to prepay it this month, although it was a bare bones plan. She’d gotten rather good at stretching her limited income. The small inheritance from her father was her mainstay, and she supplemented that with her work as a freelance photographer, although she donated those services to the animal shelters and other rescues who called. But the horse rescue expenses were high, and were it not for that large donation a couple of months ago both the cell phone and the feed troughs would be empty.
“Hi, Edie,” she said, recognizing the voice. “Did I forget something?”
“No, no,” the woman assured her. “Look, Mrs. Murray was just in, to pick up her cat. Remember, she works at the county offices?”
“Yes,” Kelsey said, placing the woman she’d always thought a bit of a busybody in her mind.
“You know how she gossips,” Edie said. “Well, she just told me who’s behind the trust that bought the land. You won’t believe it.”
Although she wasn’t sure what good it would do her to know, Kelsey asked anyway, because Edie was a friend and was clearly trying to be helpful. “Who?”
Kelsey blinked. She hadn’t expected that. “Kilcoyne?”
“Do we have another Crazy Joe?”
She didn’t like the nickname, but she had to admit, no, they didn’t. For a town the size of Whiskey River they had their share of people who might count as . . . eccentric. But Joseph Kilcoyne was the only one who’d earned the appellation of crazy. Mainly because he’d not only bought the old castle, but moved in from wherever he came from, and was never seen or heard from again. If it weren’t for the various deliveries made, and the few workers coming and going, they’d never know he was even still alive out there, holed up in that big, odd place that sat in the middle of nearly a hundred acres, all alone.
“It makes sense, I guess,” Kelsey said. “It does border his property.”
“Maybe he needs more room to bury the bodies,” Edie said in a mockingly creepy voice.
Kelsey laughed. She knew that was one end of the speculation about their mysterious resident, born of a play on his last name. The other end held him to be some kind of reclusive celebrity going under a fake name.
She, on the other hand, thought he might just be someone who didn’t care for the world and chose to not be part of it. She wasn’t sure she could blame him for that.
And he could, apparently, afford it. Having everything delivered definitely upped the outgo. She knew that too well, having to often balance the delivery charges on something against the gas money to go get it herself.
“Thanks, Edie. I think,” she added before she ended the call.
She wasn’t at all sure where this left her. Knowing who had bought the land her rescue was now on didn’t make much difference. It was odd, though, that she hadn’t even been approached about it. Jim had told her he didn’t know what the new buyer’s intentions were. Perhaps his hundred acres outside of town weren’t enough, and he needed that twenty-five more. Including the three her place was on.
Once the bags of feed and a half-dozen bales of first-cutting alfalfa hay were secured in the back of her truck, she headed home. It wasn’t much, the little two room cabin, it creaked in the slightest wind and the last spring rain had shown the leak in the roof had worsened, but she’d made it as comfortable as she could.
And she loved the front porch, where she could sit and look out over the Texas Hill Country she loved. She wondered how much longer she would have there. He had to give her notice, didn’t he? He couldn’t just throw her out. But no matter how much time it was, it wouldn’t be enough.
She sighed as she made the turn onto the dirt road that lead to her place. She had no answers and, right now, no hope of any. She needed to think, long and hard. Maybe she’d saddle up Granite and ride down to the river this afternoon. Or forget the saddle, and let the big, gray get good and wet in the river he seemed to love as much as she did. He’d even gotten used to the inner tubers floating by, and they in turn usually grinned and waved at the horse and rider as the leisurely current carried them past in their large, floating donuts.
It always helped her think, to get out and away on a horse—
She slammed on the brakes. Stared past the corrals to where she usually parked.
There were at least five men and two vehicles here.
And a bulldozer.
They were mowing her house down.
End of Excerpt